Q: Why Did Elisha Curse Youths for Mocking Him?
After performing a miracle in Jericho, the prophet Elisha went to Bethel. On the road, a large group of youths mocked him, chanting, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” Elisha immediately turned around and cursed them, whereupon two female bears charged out of the woods and mauled 42 of the mockers (2 Ki. 2:23–24). Why would a prophet of God curse “little children” (KJV) for an innocent comment?
First, the phrase translated “little children” in the King James Version often has a note in the margin of the text that reads, “youth,” “young man,” or “young lad.” The phrase is translated “youths” in the New King James. These were boys ranging in age from late teens to early 20s; they were not little children. The same Hebrew words are used for Isaac (Gen. 22:12), Joseph (37:2), and David (1 Sam. 16:11–12; 17:14).
Second, they were most likely a gang that had little respect for people, authority, or God’s law. They lived in an idolatrous society tainted by corruption and paganism; and had they been taught God’s law, they would have known that cursing God’s prophet was tantamount to cursing God and, therefore, punishable by death. Mocking Elisha was not an innocent, harmless, minor offense. He represented God before the people of Israel. Though Elisha cursed the youths, he left their judgment to God.
Some people may wonder why saying “Go up, you baldhead!” was wrong. It was wrong because the comment was meant as an insult to belittle the prophet. Since Elisha was completely or partially bald, some believe he was old; but this was not the case. In fact, Elisha was probably 25, just slightly older than those who mocked him. We know his approximate age by adding up the years between Elijah’s translation to heaven and Elisha’s eventual death.
The phrase go up was not speaking of Elisha going up from Bethel but, rather, was ridiculing the prophet Elijah’s ascension to heaven—a well-known event in Israel, though many doubted its veracity. Thus the young men were jeering Elisha, essentially saying, “Stop tormenting us; leave like Elijah did and get out of here.”
Elisha turned around, looked at them, and pronounced a curse from the Lord. Immediately, “two female bears came out of the woods and mauled [ripped apart] forty-two of the youths” (2 Ki. 2:24). Interestingly, Moses had warned the Israelites in the Law that God would “send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children” (Lev. 26:22) as a consequence of disobedience.
Without another word, Elisha continued on his journey to Mount Carmel and then returned to his house in Samaria (2 Ki. 2:25).