Elisha, The Youths And The Bears – Part 1/3

Doubtless because there is next to nothing in the New Testament to which they can appeal to show the God of the Bible as violent and cruel, the dawah team are always quoting Old Testament passages, invariably out of context, to respond to the well-documented savagery of the Allah of Islam and his human followers in enjoining mass murder, rape and enslavement in the Qur’an and Hadith when these facts are raised by Christians. Always, they ignore the fact that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Covenant, and so the features of a political state and physical warfare as seen in the Old Testament no longer apply, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, where Jesus affirmed that He had come to fulfil the ‘Law and the Prophets’, which referred to the division of the Tanakh into the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the last-mentioned sometimes simply defined by its first book, the Psalms, as in Luke 24):

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Luke 24:17-18

The last words of Jesus on the Cross included “It is finished”, which in Greek is Τετέλεσταιtetelestai, which means that Jesus has indeed accomplished His mission. It follows that actions which are features of a normal political state are not applicable in the New Covenant Age, since the nature of Christ’s Kingdom – being not of this world – do not include violence. If we return to Matthew 5, we see further evidence of this:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire…

Matthew 5:21-22

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…

Matthew 5:27-28

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery… 

Matthew 5:31-32

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King…

Matthew 5:33-35

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also… 

Matthew 5:38-39

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:43-45

Notice how Jesus contrasts His teaching with that given under Moses by raising the standard of ethics to a higher level. If the Old Testament is fulfilled, and ‘holy violence’ is no longer part of the Kingdom ethic, it follows that reference to violent events in the Old Testament prior in order to criticise Christianity is irrelevant.

The dawah team ignore this, and always refer to violent verses in the Old Testament in their diatribe against the Bible. One such example is that of the prophet Elisha and the youths in 2 Kings 2:22-23 (we shall set the context by referring to v.15 onwards):

15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of YHWH has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17 But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him but did not find him. 18 And they came back to him while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”

2 Kings 2:15-18

19 Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says YHWH, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

2 Kings 2:19-22

23 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! Go up, you baldhead!” 24 And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of YHWH. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Frequently, the accusation of the dawah team is that this was an act of infanticide – these were merely male children teasing an older man, who responds with supernatural violence. The truth is otherwise.

Walter Kaiser, in Hard Sayings of the Bible (pp. 232-233), points out that the Hebrew text does not support the idea that the males involved were children:

The problem begins with the two Hebrew words for “little children,” as many older translations term the youths. If we are to untangle this puzzling incident, the age and accountability level of these children must take first priority. “Little children” is an unfortunate translation. The Hebrew expression n̄_˓ûrîm q̣tannîm is best rendered “young lads” or “young men.” From numerous examples where ages are specified in the Old Testament, we know that these were boys from twelve to thirty years old. One of these words described Isaac at his sacrifice in Genesis 22:12, when he was easily in his early twenties. It described Joseph in Genesis 37:2 when he was seventeen years old. In fact, the same word described army men in 1 Kings 20:14–15.

If someone objects, yes, but the word q̣tannîm (which is translated “little” in some versions) makes the difference in this context, I will answer that it is best translated “young,” not “little.” Furthermore, these words have a good deal of elasticity to them. For example, Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all your children n̄_˓ûrîm]?” But Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest [qāṭān].” But David was old enough to keep sheep and fight a giant soon after (1 Sam 16:11–12).

“Little children,” then, does not mean toddlers or even elementary-school-aged youngsters; these are young men aged between twelve and thirty!

But was Elisha an old man short on patience and a sense of humor? This charge is also distorted, for Elisha can hardly have been more than twenty-five when this incident happened. He lived nearly sixty years after this, since it seems to have taken place shortly after Elijah’s translation into heaven. Some would place Elijah’s translation around 860 B.C. and Elisha’s death around 795 B.C. While Elijah’s ministry had lasted less than a decade, Elisha’s extended at least 55 years, through the reigns of Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Joash.

Hard Sayings of the Bible (1996) pp. 232-233 by Walter Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch

Immediately, we can see the problem faced with the false claims of the dawah team. This was not an act of infanticide. The ‘boys’ involved were not minors, but rather grown men – young men certainly, but men nonetheless. It follows that a central plank of the dawah team polemic against the Bible in relation to this passage is false – this was not an act of infanticide.

The next part, Part 2 of 3, will answer the question, Did Elisha lose his temper?

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Author: DCCI Ministries

Defend Christ Critique Islam (DCCI) Ministries seeks to preach the Gospel to Muslims using apologetics and polemics.

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