Today’s guest post comes from David T. Lamb. I have had the privilege of having Dave as one of my professor’s at Biblical Theological Seminary. He has a love for teaching the word of God, and has a way of making it come to life! Dave is the author of the book “God Behaving Badly“. I have appreciated his input in my life.
I was sitting at the kitchen table. My teenage son Noah snuck up behind me, rubbed my bald spot and said, “Hey, Baldy, how’s it going?”
I cry out, “Where are the she-bears when you need them?”
In case you were never taught the story of Elisha, the boys and the bears in Sunday school, it’s found in 2 Kings 2:23-25.
He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” 24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.
For those of us who love God and love to read his word, stories like this are problematic and so we just ignore them. But that makes us a bit like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. Unfortunately, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Atheists certainly don’t ignore these stories.
While teaching this story recently I ran across a blog from Infidel guy (http://www.infidelguy.com/article168.html) who asks, “Would you worship a god that kills children just for calling a man bald?…Didn’t hear this story in Sunday school now did we?” Churches and Sunday schools avoid teaching stories like this.
When Paul taught, “All Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16), do you think he meant 2 Kings 2:23-25? I’m pretty sure Paul had 2 Kings in mind in his letter to Timothy. For Paul, “Scripture” meant the Old Testament. I think Paul would want to us pull our heads out (of the sand) and do the work it’s going to take to understand tough texts so that we can teach them profitably. In order to help us do that I wrote God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?
What could we say to Infidel guy, or anyone who asks us about Elisha, the boys and the bears? I discuss this problematic passage in more detail in my book (p. 95-98), but I’ll make a couple of points here.
First, if someone asks you about a problematic passage of the Bible, affirm them. It takes courage and a willingness to take the text and the problem seriously. God isn’t afraid of our difficult questions. He can handle them. Scripture is full of faithful people asking God tough questions (Abraham, Moses, Gideon, the psalmist and even Jesus).
Second, these boys were not innocent pre-school-ers as Infidel guy wants us to believe, but they were a teenage gang and Elisha’s life was in danger. There were at least 42 of them. The text makes it clear that the boys were attacked, but not killed (see also 1 Kings 13:24; 20:36).
Third, prophets had been getting killed in record numbers by Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4, 14), so is reasonable that this one time God decided to dramatically protect one of his prophets against attack, particularly when we look at the other things Elisha was able to do. While I don’t fully understand the strength of Elisha’s response, since he was the 9th century BC version of Mother Theresa, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead and preventing a war (2 Kings 3-8), I think it’s OK to cut him a little slack here. I’m glad God protected his prophet.
As we keep reading, studying and teaching the tough texts of the Old Testament, we will deepen our love not only for his word, but also for God himself.
David T. Lamb teaches Old Testament at Biblical Seminary where he had the privilege of teaching Peter Gowesky in two classes (Genesis and Samuel-Kings) in the Winter and Spring of 2011. He blogs at http://davidtlamb.com/.