Why did God kill 42 lads merely for saying Elisha was bald?

by Matt Slick

2 Kings 2:23-24, “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.”

Why would God allow two bears to kill 42 young lads simply for saying Elisha was bald?  Let’s take a look.  Elisha was traveling from Jericho to Bethel when a group of young men verbally accosted him.  42 is a large number of people, and they were probably an organized group who had gone out to challenge Elisha.  Their mockery implied a malicious intent; especially when the culture of the time insisted on showing respect to their elders.  Furthermore, the statement “go up you baldhead!” has cultural significance.  First of all, “go up” is probably a reference to Elisha’s predecessor, Elijah, ascending to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).  In other words, they are stating they want Elisha gone; and since Elijah had gone on to the “next world,” the implication is they wanted Elisha dead.  Also, the epithet ‘baldhead’ was one of “contempt in the East, applied to a person even with a bushy head of hair.” 1 Lepers had to shave their heads, so such a statement could easily have been a deliberate and malicious insult--something dangerous in a mob that can quickly get out of hand.

Given the challenge of the youths, their intimidating number which could constitute a mob, their veiled threat, the contemptuous attitude, and the fact that Elisha was the prophet of God, the Lord allowed the youths to be destroyed.

But, God did not break his own moral law.  The Bible says do not murder.  Murder is the unlawful taking of life.  But, all people have sinned against God and are worthy of death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  So, God had them killed according to the Law.

  • 1. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A., & and Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (electronic ed.) (2 Ki 2:23). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.