Study 2 THE CURSING OF THE YOUNG MEN
Studies in the Life of Elisha
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: 2 Kings 2: 11 and 23-25)
The verses in 2 Kings 2:23-25 are certainly very hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), but it is reasonable to expect difficulties when we read God’s Word. Can the mind of finite man expect fully to understand records which are the product of the Infinite Mind? Would the Bible be a divine revelation if poor finite minds could fathom it? To admit that there are problems in the Bible in no way lessens its value, and we must remember that facts are never altered or discounted by failure on our part to understand them. As we study this portion of scripture let us see what lessons God has to teach us.
1. CONSIDER WHO THESE “YOUTHS” WERE.
Our King James’ Version says that those who mocked Elisha were “little children”, which would suggest children of up to 10 years old, whilst the New International Version calls them “youths”, which would suggest boys of, say, up to 20 years old. How old were they?
- 1. In Genesis 44:20, Benjamin is described as “a young son born to him in his old age” – but Benjamin was at least twenty at that time.
- 2. In 1 Samuel 16:11, David is called “the youngest” of Jesse’s “sons”, and the Hebrew words for “youngest” and “children” are the two words translated “youths” in 2 Kings 2:23. How old was David at this time? In 1 Samuel 16:18 we are told he was “a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine looking man…”, which suggests he must have been twenty or thirty years of age.
- 3. In 1 Kings 3:7, Solomon says of himself, “I am only a little child” – again the same two Hebrew words – but Solomon was twenty years old!
It would, therefore, appear that the “youths” who mocked Elisha were between sixteen and thirty years of age; they were of a responsible age and old enough to know what they were doing. This attack on God’s prophet, then, was made by responsible men!
2. NOTICE WHERE THESE OFFENDERS LIVED.
They lived in Bethel, where there was a golden calf erected by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28-33) – a stronghold of idolatry and a centre of apostasy. They were representatives of a wicked movement that blasphemed the name of God, and their attack on Elisha was not, therefore, a sudden whim but the expression of a determined attitude.
3. NOW OBSERVE EXACTLY WHAT THESE OFFENDERS DID.
They mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you bald head; go on up, you bald head!” (verse 23). Elisha was God’s prophet, and whereas these young men were representatives of their false gods, so Elisha was the representative of the True God – so the attack against Elisha was an attack against God, just as when Saul persecuted the early Christians he was really persecuting the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:4). But what is the significance of the mocking words? Elisha had just passed through Bethel on his way to Jericho with Elijah, who was then translated, and now he was returning to Bethel alone. Knowing Elisha to be God’s newly-appointed prophet, the young men met him with the words, “Go on up you bald head!” In the East, “you bald head” was an expression of abuse – a grave insult. Why did they say, “Go on up…!”? Was it because they knew Elijah had just gone up, and in effect they were now saying to his successor, “You go up too, where you belong!”? If so, surely they were speaking against Elisha in the same way that some ungodly people today speak against the Lord’s servants.
4. NOW CONSIDER ELISHA’S ACTION.
Read verse 24. Was he wrong? Did he act hastily? The proof that it was not wrong is the fact that God endorsed what he did by sending swift and terrible judgment upon these enemies of His name. This judgment came at the beginning of Elisha’s ministry – compare Acts 5:1-11, which came at the beginning of the apostolic ministry.
5. SEE HOW GOD’S JUDGMENT FELL UPON THESE MOCKERS.
We are not told, in verse 24, that forty-two were killed, though probably some were and many would carry a scar to the end of their days. But was not this judgment very severe? – look up 2 Chronicles 36:16.
6. IN CONCLUSION, NOTICE SOME LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THIS INCIDENT.
- 1. We must guard against having a distorted, one-sided view of God – look up Mark 16:16; Romans 6:23; 11:22.
- 2. God cannot be defied with impunity, whether by old or young – look up Proverbs 29:1; Galatians 6:7-8. “Instead of apologising for this record as though we were ashamed of it, it is far better to accept it fully as one of the warnings of scripture that God will not be defied with impunity, and that the judgments in this life whereby He indicated that fact in Old Testament times are a warning to us in our day, when temporal judgments are rarer but eternal judgment remains.” (H. E. Guillebaud).
- 3. It is very dangerous to persecute God’s people – look up Psalm 105:15; Zechariah 2:8.
- 4. Parents must suffer if they neglect or poison their children. These “children” had been trained in idolatry; now they and their parents were suffering in consequence.
- 5. Difficult as this subject is, let us remember that the Judge of all the earth always does that which is right – look up Genesis 18:25.
This is indeed a solemn incident, but before we leave it let us go down on our knees in God’s presence and read 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. How fearful will be the judgment that will fall upon our unbelieving world when the Lord of Glory comes again!
Closing Thought: 2 Peter 3: 9-10.