6 Controversial Bible Passages the Skeptics Love to Hate—Explained
5. Why did bears kill children who made fun of Elisha? (2 Kings 2:23, 24)
Here is the one the skeptics love. Bears came out of the woods and killed 42 little kids who made fun of God's prophet because he was bald. Except that's not exactly what happened. Elisha, the successor of the prophet Elijah, was accosted by dozens and dozens of young men. They were not kids. The Hebrew language here is pretty clear; they were young men in their late teens and early twenties. So, a large gang was confronting God's prophet. Elisha and Elijah were battling the prophets of Baal at this time, and these Baal worshipers were not nice guys. They regularly burned babies alive in sacrifice to their god Baal and practiced every form of sexual deviancy.
Here was a large gang of Baal supporters who were insulting and taunting Elisha. They told him to "go up"— a reference to Elijah's previous ascension into heaven. They sarcastically wanted him to repeat Elijah's performance. And they called him "bald head." Not a big deal to us today. But in that ancient world, it was a term of scorn. Leprous people had to shave their heads, and they may have been saying that he was as desirable as lepers.
Certainly they saw him with contempt. And to see God's prophet with contempt was the same as viewing God with contempt. Elisha called down a curse and the Lord answered by sending bears to maul them. The text says forty-two were mauled (though not killed). So apparently it was quite a large crowd mocking God's prophet. Lesson learned: God is not mocked. He is not a senile old grandfather. He is real, we must take Him seriously, and He will execute judgment on the earth.