“[Elisha] 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 up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead?’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” 2 Kings 2:23-24
Despite the fact that I can now relate to being hair-follicaly challenged, I have never really enjoyed this account in the life of the prophet Elisha. It appears to be unduly harsh and, the prophet seems to have a short fuse and a vindictive spirit. (Maybe, it hits too close to home for all the times as a boy that I teased the “baldheads!”)
But this time as I have read and thought on this account again, I have been helped by reflecting on a couple of truths.
The first truth is a hard truth: scoffers of God’s Word always deserve God’s judgement. See, the real issue with the boys was not the orneriness of making fun of a baldheaded man (as wrong as that may be), but the rebellion of scoffing at God’s Word represented by God’s prophet Elisha. By jeering at Elisha, they were jeering at God’s chosen voice of that day. They were in a very real sense mocking God’s word. And, that always deserves God’s judgement. The curse that Elisha called down in the name of the Lord was not personal vengeance but Divine retribution. Justice was not lacking on that day. They got what their sins deserved.
The second truth is a glorious truth: scoffers of God’s Word can receive God’s grace. Where is the gospel in this account? Well, it’s there by contrast. Part of why this story seems so harsh is because it is uncommon. Though scoffers deserve God’s swift judgement like these boys received, because of grace He does not normally give it like that. Rather, He mercifully withholds it, patiently showing His kindness so that we might repent and turn to Him.
Consider Jesus, the Word made flesh. The gospels clearly portray that He was mocked, scorned, despised, and rejected (Matt 26:57-27:44; Luke 22:63-23:43). Yet, the Word did not respond with cursing, rather He became the curse so that scoffers could believe the Word of grace, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) With wide-eyed wonder, Peter wrote, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return… He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:23-24)
The silent Word speaks loudly, “Scoffers of God’s Word deserve His judgement, but because of Christ we can receive His grace!”
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18
I don’t know any sane and sensible person who likes to suffer. Suffering hurts. Suffering is a result of living as sinners in a post-fall world. However, as Christians we can come to appreciate that God redeems suffering in order to accomplish His good purposes for His beloved. In fact, Scripture informs us that it is through suffering that God works endurance, character, and unabashed hope in the lives of His children:
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” Romans 5:3-5
How will we have a joyful faith that endures to the end? Through the trials of suffering.
How will we be sculpted into the image of Christ? By the hammer and chisel.
Why will we look and long for our certain future and final redemption? Because of the groanings of affliction.
The Psalmist writes, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word… It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Ps 119:67, 71). Christopher Ash helpfully comments, “[God] does not willingly afflict; he afflicts because it is the only way to achieve his promise and to keep me walking in his way. He has promised that the saints will persevere; but no saint will ever persevere unless the Lord afflicts him on the way. The affliction is not the failure of God’s faithfulness, but precisely the expression of it.”
By faith let us rest in the biblical truth that infinite Wisdom and faithful Love has designed our good through our sufferings.
“God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So, when you don’t understand; when you don’t see His plan; when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” (Eddie Carswell & Babbie Mason)
Recently, while praying with my two youngest children, I heard my 5 year old quietly, in agreement say, “yes,” and then repeat it again, “yes.” Since she had never done this before during a prayer, it took me by surprise. However, once the prayer was over, she quickly informed me that that is what Pop (my dad) did while I led in prayer at church.
Because of his ministerial duties, my dad has only been able to worship with us one time in the last couple of years; but, that one time was all that was needed to get the attention of and make a small impact in my daughter’s young life.
This little anecdote reminded me that we all are influencing others in one way or another. For good or bad, in big or small ways, we have somebody’s attention. By intentionality or in the incidentals, our lives are impacting those around us. Parents, how often have we been rebuked by the actions or words of our children once we realized that they were simply reflecting what they had seen or heard from us?!
Like it or not we all are influencers. As Christians then, let us be careful not to put stumbling blocks in each other’s way; let us be humble to admit and correct our wrong; and let us keep our eyes on Jesus so that our lives can say with the Apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.