Looking at artist’s impressions of the bear attack in 2 Kings 2, you’ll notice something. The pictures changed dramatically through time. The older drawings (I am talking older by centuries) tended to depict the Lord’s prophets as men with muscles.
That’s not unreasonable when you consider that men like Elijah could outrun a chariot (1 Kings 18:46). Likewise, the group who slandered Elisha and were subsequently slain by bears also hit the art scene looking like rugged young men.
But as you move through time these young men appear younger and younger and prophets like Elisha become older and crazier.
Was Elisha just a twitching prophet who needed to switch to decaf? Were those who mocked him an under-8’s soccer team from Bethel who had left the safety of a walled city and ventured into bear-infested woodlands just to tease an old man?
I don’t think so.
I think it is more likely that these mockers were either male temple prostitutes or sons of false prophets. Little men. Cowards. Worthless men of little importance.
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 up, you baldhead! (2 Kings 2:23)
Let’s look at these two words, “small” and “boys”.
The word for ‘small’, “Kaw-tawn”, is used here and around 90 other times in the Old Testament. In most instances, the word is used to describe something of little significance, value or importance.
Take Saul, who was head and shoulders above anyone else in Israel (1 Samuel 9:2). Saul unironically described himself and his tribe as “Kaw-tawn”, when he was offered the throne.
The word translated as, ‘boy’ here is, “Na ‘ar”, and often means servant. It can refer to a servant of the royal household as well as temple servants like the wretched Hophni and Phineas. These two also had an appetite for the ladies and so, unlikely to be boy scouts (1 Samuel 2:17, 22).
Again, Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba was a “Na’ ar” with 15 children (2 Samuel 9:9-10). So, it’s unlikely he was a child himself.
More important than all of this, however, is the reason it happened. God is faithful. But His faithfulness can be as terrifying as it is re-assuring.
Elisha was calling on the Covenant God to fulfil the covenant—which He did in a terrifying way. But not in a way that should take us by surprise.
“..if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will… let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your sons.” (Leviticus 26:21-24)
God’s faithfulness is strong meat and sometimes hard for us to chew. God is just. This should comfort us. But it should also cause us to tremble before the Lord and appreciate what sin will do if left unchecked in our own hearts.
Art, they say, imitates life and our art is a damning admission of the juvenile, childish and sugar-bear way we often depict the devastating consequences of our sin.
Sin destroys and we must be careful not to protest its destruction or turn it into a childish, small-minded cartoon for kids.
A small view of sin is the product of small men.
To object to God’s justice is not only to be ignorant of the poison that sin is, but it’s also to give our tacit approval for the dominion of evil. To object to God cleansing the land is to object to the gospel and all that it accomplishes.
Sin isn’t just a little smoke in the eyes. It’s deeply rooted within each human heart, and it destroys.
This is why we can say that God’s decision to wipe out sin from the land, and from our own hearts, is, in fact, an act of mercy.
The destruction of sin means new life to those who believe. It foreshadows God’s desire to cleanse the world.
Handing wicked men over to angry she-bears may seem like drastic action, and it is. It’s drastic because sin has drastic consequences and to nurture sin in our heart is to invite destruction.
But where the consequences of sin are radical, so too is God’s appointed means of wiping it from the earth through the death of His own Son.