Has there ever been a time when someone was making fun of you and you wished you could just make that person disappear? At the snap of a finger everyone making jokes at your expense would be gone just like that. While this is not exactly how it happened, today we are going to continue our hidden gems series by looking at what one prophet does when a group of people start making fun of him and try to understand how it can be an important story for us.
Today’s story comes from 2 Kings 2:23. Our main character is the prophet Elisha who has just taken over for the prophet Elijah, who was recently taken up to heaven (literally). At this point, Elisha makes his way to Bethel. While on the road, a group of boys come out and make fun of Elisha. They mock him and insult him by calling him bald. Elisha took obvious offense to this. So, he calls down a curse from heaven and from the forest two bears come and maul the boys.
This is a very short story but when you read it you can’t help but be puzzled by why this made it into scripture. It seems like a story that comes straight from Greek mythology. But I truly believe that if it is in the Bible, it must be there for a reason or at the very least be able to provide us with some sort of insight. So what can we gain from a story about a man condemning a group of hagglers to a bear attack? I think in order to understand the deeper meaning we must know the context of what was going on at the time. As I mentioned before, this was the very beginning of Elisha’s ministry. He was taking over for one of the best known prophets even to this day. Keep in mind that the job of a prophet is to communicate the word of God to the people. When Elisha is going to Bethel he is immediately confronted with opposers. Though a number of translations say “boys”, many scholars believe these people to actually be young men between the ages of 20 and 40. I bring that up only to say that it was not as if a group of ten year olds were taunting someone who was simply passing by. These people were potentially adults harassing someone who is presumed to have been younger than them. Not just any man though. This was the man in charge of communicating God’s will. If people do not respect the messenger how will they respect the message? Think about Jesus. Those who loved Him and respected Him took His message and continued it. However, those who did not respect Him did not respect His message and it led to his crucifixion.
It seems as if God and Elisha were setting a tone. It was a tone that may appear harsh but necessary. I also want to throw in that we have no reason to believe that the bears actually killed the men. But this was important for Elisha to show that not only was he in charge of communicating God’s will but that the power of God was with him as well. I think that this was a way for both God and Elisha to show the people of Bethel how important the message was that was being brought to them and how they should respect Elisha despite the fact he was beginning his independent ministerial career. A story like this can be hard to feel like you gain anything from it. But I think this story is calling us to reflect on how seriously we take the word of God. It is not something to joke about or make light of. Mocking Elisha wasn’t necessarily the problem here, it was that there was no respect for what he was bringing into the city.
As I think about many of you at Wesley as I write this, I know how seriously you take the word of God whether it is scripture, His calling on your life, or those communicating that word. But I know that that does not mean that there is room for improvement. I know that I personally could always be better with the way I regard the word of God. This does not mean that you have to be a rigid person who is afraid to mess up. But hold tight to what you know God is calling you toward and listen for what He is saying to you next. While disregard may not bring on a bear attack, God will not steer you wrong when you open your heart and listen to what he has to say.