How do you reconcile the mauling of the children by the bear in 2 Kings 2 with Jesus' command to love one another?
I recently came across a friends post on Facebook in which he quoted Jesus saying to love one another, to bless those that curse you and do good to those that persecute you. One of the follow up posts was from another person who quoted the section in 2 Kings 2 where Elisha curses a bunch of guys who are mocking/harassing him, and God sends out a couple of bears to kill them. This kinda got my ire I guess so it’s been in my mind as I’m trying to reconcile the command of Jesus vs. the curse of the prophet Elisha. Obviously there are sections in the new testament where Paul teaches to cast out sinners from the church, or where he delivers people over to satan for their blasphemy. So, how is it that we should take Jesus’ words in light of these reactions from other prophets of God?
I have addressed the question of 2 Kings 2 in a previous Q & A. I am copying and pasting below. Let me add to what is below. A good parent can be loving and kind yet also firm and tough. Love does not contradict truth. Discipline is not a contradiction to kindness. Whether Jesus showed compassion or rebuke depended a lot on the context, which would include the heart of the hearer and their religious position. As a rule, Jesus was very hard on religious hypocrites and very gentle with “sinners” who were, nevertheless, humble. In the case of Paul, love requires that we apply discipline to those blatant hypocrites who choose to commit robbery or adultery and claim to still be Christians. To ignore such actions would not be love but foolishness and would actually hurt these people and others in the church. If this response, combined with what is below is not sufficient, please let me know.
How do you explain Elijah’s angry curse and God slaughtering 42 children?
I think that the one story that undoes the Bible and the claims made about its infallibility and God’s loving kindness is the story of Elijah calling down evil in the name of Jehovah on children. You defend it in the manner of someone who doesn’t really believe that 42 children were torn to shreds. You seem to look at it as though it is some academic problem to be solved and also you seem desperate to reconcile this anomaly with the God of loving kindness. We already know that he is a jealous god ~ jealousy, a trait which in all reasonable adults is abhorrent and to be avoided is seen as being acceptable in our ruler. However, to return to the case, why is that these children CHILDREN are brutally slain for a childish act? How does this square with suffering little children to come unto me? or whomsoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them that they ….etc. But it’s ok for god to break his own commandments, which he often does. No NO; he is a small-minded god, jealous and capricious; a badly drawn character, patched together by all-too-human authors of long ago. Many people seek to reconcile the great inconsistencies of the Bible because they start from the point that it is true therefore their own understanding of it or normal logic has to be remodelled to fit it. What utter nonsense. UTTER NONSENSE ~ we might just as well go about believing that any or all evil acts are therefore the punishments and will of God upon us or others; the murderer of OUR children was doing God’s will for some slight or infringement of the rules. WHAT madness. It’s time for the peddlars of this great nonsense to grow up and consign it to the dustbin and then start to think for themselves.
I definitely can see why you find this incident in the Old Testament to be troubling. There is no question that it raises difficult questions in light of what seems to be clear teaching in the Bible. Given the emotions you express in this question, I am guessing that you will not be easily convinced by a reasoned argument, but permit me to try to do exactly that.
First of all, you have the story wrong. It was Elisha, not Elijah who was involved in the incident (2 Kings 2:23-25). It might also be worth noting that he was probably in his twenties when this incident happened, as he lived more than 50 years after this scene occurred.
Now let me address the issue of jealousy. You say that all reasonable adults find jealousy to be abhorrent and to be avoided in all cases–particularly by a ruler. I disagree with your view on jealousy. The Bible describes God as having “jealousy.” In Exodus 20:4-5, for example, it describes Jehovah as a jealous God. This is not a bad trait for the God of the universe to have. Let me explain why by first giving an example. I love my wife. I have committed my life and heart to her, “till death do us part.” If a man were to come into her life and attempt to steal her heart away from me, you can bet I would be jealous. I ought to be, in that case. In fact, if I was not jealous in such a situation, it would be a sure sign that my love and commitment were questionable. When two people make a solemn commitment to love and be loyal to one another, then the emotion of jealousy to those who would destroy such a relationship is “normal” and a good thing. God is jealous of his people’s love because he loves them and he wants the best for them. Those who seek to destroy the lives of those he loves will not be a friend of God. Those who commit to God and later stray, God is jealous of their love as well. It is this kind of justifiable and “good” jealousy which God is described as having in the Bible. I am proud of my Creator for being jealous of my love for him. God loves us enough to get upset when we turn as traitor to him–when we “prostitute” ourselves with other “lovers,” such as money, fame, lust for power and other sinful desires.
Then there is the issue about what happened when the “children” ridiculed Elisha, calling him “baldy.” I believe that what happened here is that Elisha was understandably upset because of the out-of control behavior of these rebellious teenagers. You are convinced that the interpretation of the passage is little children, but that simply is not what the word means. The Hebrew word is na’ar. The most common translation of the word is young man. I did not make this up. This is the meaning of the word. Feel free to use your Hebrew dictionary. I do not know what translation you are using. Perhaps it is the King James, which is not the best translation. If you will take the time to look at a number of translations, then look at a Hebrew dictionary, then think about the passage itself, I believe you will realize that these were young men–most likely teenagers. They were not innocent little children. This was an out-of-control gang of rebellious young men from whom Elisha’s life was probably in danger.
I am not sure how to interpret what happened next in this story. Perhaps Elisha told them in a level-headed way that God would not stand for their insolence, arrogance and disrespect for God’s annointed leader–that God would discipline them for their sin. Or perhaps he lost his temper and called out an unloving and ungodly curse on these thuggish teens. I am not sure which is the case. I know that Elisha was a human and it is possible he lashed out in anger and sinned by cursing them in his rage.
In any case, the Bible then reports that after the teens ridiculed Elisha and after he “cursed” them, the group was attacked by two bears. Obviously, not all 42 of the young men were killed. For all we know, none of them were actually killed, but a number were hurt and probably some of them were even killed. Does this incident do what you claim it does? Does it prove that God does not love us–that he has petty jealousy and is capricious? I say definitely no. Certainly they were not some little innocent children. They were “youths.” I am sure that they were not innocent little children. I am confident that these youths were old enough to know better than to mock God or his servant. You are right. I do not believe that 42 children were torn to shreds. That certainly is not what the Bible says. First of all, they were not little children. Second, for all we know, none of them died. I am sure that they were not all “torn to shreds.” This is clearly an attempt to sensationalize what happened.
Nevertheless, this is still a difficult passage, and I do not want to pretend that it is not. Here is how I view this. You can take it for what it is worth. God is not concerned with whether we live or die physically. All of us will die, and death is not evil. What is important to God is our eternal destiny–whether we will be with him or separated from his love. What is evil is to rebel against our Creator and to reject his love and the good life he has prepared for us. When we turn against God and do evil, there are consequences. If a person rapes, steals, commits adultery, lies, mocks or gets drunk, people suffer. That is the reality of the world that God created. There is justice. I believe that in the Scripture God uses a VERY small number of extreme examples to teach his people. I would include what happened to Ananias and Saphyra in Acts 5:1f as an example of this concept. These are one-time events God uses to teach all his people that he is not to be mocked or to be treated lightly. The fact that 42 young men were hurt and some even killed because of their rebellion and disrespect of God is hard for me to accept, personally, but God has a right to judge and to use a one-time event in order to teach his people that the one who loves us and created us is not to be mocked. The fact that these teens were injured or even died in this way is disturbing, but I believe that many lives were saved in the long run because Israel took seriously what happened in this one incident. I have no right to judge in this way. I believe that Elisha had no right to judge either. I am not convinced that God is fully approving of Elisha’s behavior in this traumatic situation for him. However, I am not going to charge God with not loving these boys. The fact that we suffer consequences for our sin is NOT evidence that God does not love us.