“[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
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.