Elisha And The Forty-Two Boys


Hidden in the Old Testament is a story which many believe is very disturbing, a story, which on the surface seems a little ‘unjust’ for those involved and for some a little ‘over the top,’ in terms of their punishment.

It’s the account where Elisha receives some verbal abuse from some ‘boys’ which results in those very same boys being eaten by bears. Let’s go ahead and look at some background information before we deal with the text.

Elisha The Man

As Elijah was coming to the end of his ministry, God directed him to anoint a younger man named Elisha to take his place. Elisha was the son of Shaphat and lived in Abel Meholah, 1 Kings 19:16. In a matter of years Elisha became God’s spokesman to the northern kingdom of Israel and his ministry would be one of signs, miracles, proclamations and warnings.

Over a period of time he would become known as the prophet of peace and healing. Elijah was commissioned to deliver fearless messages of condemnation and judgment to the king and to the people, warning them to turn from sin and Elisha’s ministry was to build on the work that Elijah had begun by teaching the people God’s ways.

Elisha’s Ministry Of Miracles

Elijah’s ministry began by shutting up the heavens for three and a half years, whereas Elisha’s ministry began by healing a spring of water near Jericho, 2 Kings 2:19-22. This spring of water was unfit to use and so, Elisha asked to have some salt in a new bowl brought to him, he threw the salt into the spring and the water was suddenly healed, 2 Kings 2:21.

His second recorded miracle granted an impoverished family of faith a financial blessing. A man dies and his wife becomes a widow. She was very poor and owned just one item of value, a jar of olive oil. She had two sons to care for, and she asked Elisha to help her as she feared her sons would be taken away to pay a debt.

Elisha instructed her to go to all her neighbours and borrow as many empty jars as she could. The one jar of oil was multiplied miraculously, and she was able to sell enough of the valuable oil to pay off her debt and live off the rest, 2 Kings 4:1-7.

Two more miracles were performed for a married couple living in the town of Shunem. Elisha the prophet often stayed at the home of this childless couple, as his ministry would take him from town to town. As a gesture of appreciation for their hospitality he prophesied that they would have a son who would bring them great joy.

Later, the little boy suffered an illness while out in the field, and his mother went searching until she found Elisha. He went back to her house to see what could be done. The boy had died but Elisha prayed, and God raised the boy from the dead, 2 Kings 4:8-22 / 2 Kings 4:23-37.

The ‘Disturbing’ Story!

‘From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.’ 2 Kings 2:23-25


Elisha travelling from Jericho went up to Bethel which was at this time the centre of idol worship and home to many false prophets. Notice as he is walking along the road, some ‘boys’ came out of the town and jeered at him. The NIV uses the word, ‘boys’ but other translations like the ERV and the KJV use the words, ‘little children’.

Often people will ask how could Elisha do such a thing to these ‘little children’? They are only ‘children’, why should they receive such a horrible death? This is a bit much, it’s just children being children!

The phrase ‘little children’ or ‘boys’ is very misleading in our English language, the word used is the Hebrew word, ‘na’ar’ which is a word used to describe any child from the age of infancy to adolescence, 1 Kings 3:7 / Jeremiah 1:6-7.

When we think about this logically, we know that ‘little children’ or ‘very young boys’, wouldn’t be roaming around in a forest on their own, never mind roaming around in a forest in gangs of forty or more. The NET uses the words, ‘young boys’, the ASV uses the words, ‘young lads’, both of which would indicate that they were probably teenagers.

The Insult

Whatever age they were, they were old enough to assume responsibility for their disrespectful behaviour toward a man of God. Remember that Elisha was well known in the area and these young men would have known him or at the very least, heard of him.

By telling Elisha ‘to get out of here’ implies they were saying Elisha didn’t belong amongst them, he wasn’t wanted, and the reason he wasn’t wanted is simply because Elisha was reminding them of the sinful lifestyles they were living. They wanted to continue in their sin without being reminded about how God felt about their sinfulness. The KJV has the words, ‘go up’ which would indicate they wanted him to leave the earth, just like Elijah did, 2 Kings 2:11.

It’s highly possible that Elisha was around 30 years of age during this time, and most commentators agree that he was around 80 years old when he died, 2 Kings 13:14. Twice these youths shouted,

‘Get out of here, baldy!’

It’s not likely that Elisha was completely bald but possibly starting to go bald, keep in mind that baldness was also the mark of a leper. Some believe these youths were pronouncing a divine curse upon Elisha, for which baldness was often the outward sign, Isaiah 3:17 / Isaiah 3:24. The point is that these youths were insulting him, an insult which Elisha took as an insult against God Himself.

The Curse

When Elisha cursed them in the name of the Lord, we must remember that there are a few words in Scripture used for the word ‘curse’, here it is the word, ‘qalal’ which simply means a severe rebuke. In other words, Elisha gave them a firm telling off. As we will see in a moment, Elisha wasn’t responsible for their death.

The Two Bears

We know that Elisha wasn’t responsible for the youth’s death because he simply cursed them. He gave them a severe telling off, he rebuked them, he didn’t call upon the two bears to devour them. It was God who brought the bears to the youths to punish them for their disrespectful and insulting behaviour towards one of His prophets.

God using animals to punish evil people shouldn’t come as a surprise to us as God had done this on many occasions, He sent snakes to bite the disobedient Israelites, Numbers 21:6, He sent a lion to punish a disobedient prophet, 1 Kings 13:23-25.

It was God who closed the mouths of the lions to protect Daniel whilst he was in the den, Daniel 6:22, it was God who prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, Jonah 1:17, and it was God who guided Peter’s hook to the fish He provided to pay the temple tax, Matthew 17:24-27. Surely, this tells us that it was God who brought those bears out of the forest.

Their destruction was a righteous and moral act of God’s judgment upon the wicked. We must remember there were ten offences under the Mosaic Law which carried with it the death sentence, one of those offences was disobedient children, Deuteronomy 21:18-21. They subsequently reaped the consequences of their insults, receiving immediate judgment from God, 2 Chronicles 36:16.

The Purpose Of Their Punishment

The purpose of the miracle was to instil fear in others to greatly respect Elisha as a prophet of God. The people who lived in and around Bethel would certainly now know that they can’t play with God, but they would also know they have to respect Him, Deuteronomy 6:4-5.


It’s very easy to read a passage of Scripture without thinking about the background and circumstances. What we’ve read in 2 Kings 2:23-25 is one of those passages, which can easily be misunderstood. These ‘children’ were old enough to know what they were doing and old enough to be severely rebuked but also old enough to punished for their actions, Deuteronomy 21:18-21.



"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Philippians 4:7