Author: Ron Graham
In second Kings, the second chapter, you can read the story of Elisha and some youths who mocked him. It's one of the Bible's strange stories —but instructive. But let's begin by looking at the background to the story...
This chapter tells of Elijah being taken up into heaven. His mantle (and his work) was taken over by his disciple Elisha (1Kings 19:16,19, 2Kings 2:11-14). It was said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." (2Kings 2:15). Now centuries later, the same power was attributed to John the Baptizer, the herald of Jesus Christ (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17). In the acts of Elisha therefore, we may expect to see some symbolic foreshadowing of the kingdom which John announced and Jesus instituted. Elisha was a prophet not only in what he said, but he was also a "type", and as such was prophetic in what he did.
Jericho was a pleasant city except for pollution of its water and soil. Elisha's first public miracle was to heal the water and soil of Jericho. (2Kings 2:19-22). Does this not symbolise the healing through Jesus of that spiritual pollution which we call sin, and which spoils this otherwise pleasant creation (Romans 5:18, Romans 8:21)? The people of Jericho probably did not have insight into the symbolic nature of Elisha's miracle. However they would surely see the power and grace of Elisha's God, wouldn't they? Well, some of them didn't...
After Elisha had done this miracle, he went up to Bethel. As he left Jericho, and he set out along the road, a gang of youths followed him from the city, and they began to ridicule him (2Kings 2:23). What they said translates as, "Go up baldhead!" In today's parlance it would be something like, "Move it baldy!" They kept following Elisha and mocking him.
Dwell for a while on the callousness of these youths. Elisha had lost the master he loved as his own father. Elisha was presently "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (2Kings 2:12 Isaiah 53:1-4). Moreover, Elisha had given Jericho, the city of these youths, a pure water supply, a great blessing for their future. Yet all they could do was mock him, just as Christ was mocked though he had done so much good (Psalms 22:6-7, Matthew 27:39,41). We ought to be shocked at the behaviour of these youths who abused their benefactor.
How might we expect Elisha to react to this unjust treatment? Will he ignore these youths, perhaps attempt to escape them? Or will he turn and speak to them? If he speaks to them, will he plead with them earnestly, and try to help them overcome their stupidity? Or will he scald, condemn, and punish them? What is the best and fairest way for him to react?
Elisha turned, looked at them, and cursed them. Two female bears then came out of the woods and mauled forty two of the youths. Elisha, hardly out of stride, continued going his way, leaving the youths to help each other home as best they could (2Kings 2:24-25).
What do you think of Elisha's action, especially in view of what we said before, that his acts are “typical” of the Messiah's coming kingdom? There can be no argument that what Elisha did, indeed what the Lord did by him, was righteous and just. These thankless youths needed to be woken up and taught a lesson, didn't they? However, what Elisha did was hardly Christian, was it?
Elisha was a good man, but Jesus a better man by far. Elisha was badly treated by those youths, but Jesus endured mistreatment ten thousand times worse. Yet, when Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return (1Peter 2:23-24). Shall we say then, that Elisha was wrong and Jesus was right? Or shall we say Elisha did right but could have done better, as Jesus did?
At present we are thinking of Christian ethics, in particular how we should not abuse, mistreat, and victimise others, and how we should not return evil for evil when we are victims of abuse and injustice. Underlying that, of course, we are thinking also of the cruel injustice Jesus suffered and endured, thereby healing our polluted souls, that we might have a better City in which to dwell. Now, is that the end of this matter? Or is there something else, a further principle that makes Elisha's act directly characteristic of Jesus?
So far in our thinking, Elisha’s treatment of those youths seems to be in opposition to the way Jesus acted. Looking at Elisha's action through Christian ethics and through the cross of Christ, we may find it hard to approve of what Elisha did. But we have thought only of Jesus's first coming when he was offered to bear our sins.
We must now think of his second coming when he will judge the world (Hebrews 10:26-28). Jesus will take vengeance upon, and punish with everlasting destruction, all who have disobeyed him and have not repented (2Thessalonians 1:5-10). Elisha's bears will come out of the woods. God's retribution will be seen in Christ the avenger. God is showing longsuffering now, as must we. But one day we will see a just retribution against our persecutors. They will go ashamed to Jericho, and we will go justified to Bethel.