Returning from the ascension of Elikah, the Prophet Elisha carried with him the mantle of Elijah which had fallen from the Prophet as he ascended. Retracing his steps to the Jordan River, Elisha took the folded mantle, struck the waters with it and exclaimed:
“Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.” (2 Kings 2:14)
The young men of the School of the Prophets recognized that the spirit of Elijah rested upon Elisha, whose purpose was to complete the work Elijah had begun. They gave to Elisha the reverence and devotion which previously they had shown to Elijah.
Healing The Water
The Prophet asked that a new bowl be brought to him filled with salt. He then went to the spring, or source of the water supply, and cast the salt into it saying:
“Thus said the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.” (2 Kings 2:21)
From that day forward the waters were healed. The foundation beside the site ofancient Jericho is still called “the fountain of Elisha.” Throughout the valley of the Jordan there are today many fountains of water, a considerable number of which are unfit for use because of the strong sulphur and iron deposits in the water. Some are too salty and, if used on vegetation, will destroy it. Evidently this was the condition of the fountain of water near Jericho until Yahweh through Elisha healed it.
Hoodlums Meet the Prophet
Elisha left Jericho to go to Bethel and on his way young men came out of the city and ridiculed him saying, “Go up, thou bald-head; go up, thou bald-head!” It is unfortunate that the King James version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word “naar” as “children” when actually it means youths or young men. This translation has caused much unnecessary criticism of what followed. Elisha was met by a gang of hoodlums, young men who resided in or near Bethel and who were bent upon mischief. They had heard of the ascension of Elijah as told by Elisha and did not believe it so they came out to mock Elisha, telling him to ascend also.
“And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth LITTLE CHILDREN out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-24) (KJV)
“And he went up from thence unto Beth‑el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth YOUNG LADS out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead. And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Jehovah. And there came forth two she‑bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two lads of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-24) (ASV)
“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 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 youths.” (2 Kings 2:23-24) (NIV)
“From Jericho he went to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a gang of young men from the city began mocking and making fun of him because of his bald head. He turned around and cursed them in the name of the Lord; and two female bears came out of the woods and tore forty‑two of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-24) (TLB)
Center of Idolatry
Bethel had been a center of idolatry in Israel and one of the golden calves King Jeroboam had set up in Israel was located there. This idolatrous worship was accompanied by unspeakable moral and religious degradation. The very conditions extant in the city of Bethel resulted in a generation of young men who had no respect whateverfor a prophet of Yahweh; in fact, theywere ready to ridicule anything sacred which had to do with the true worship of Yahweh. This mob of young rowdiescame out to mock elisha whose coming to Bethel evidently was known to the inhabitatns of the city before his arrival.
Elisha met their blasphemy and disrespect for Yahweh’s prophets and their contemptuous allusion to the translation of Elijah by turning and cursing them, l.e., pronouncing sentence upon them for their evil in the name of Yahweh.
Modern scholars have condemned Elisha for this act, declaring he destroyed thoughtless, irresponsible children. They have completely failed to recognize the true situation. They were not children but a group of young hoodlums who very likely were not confining their ridicule to words only, for a mob of such rowdies would very likely resort to throwing stones at the Prophet, according to Eastern custom. Furtheremore, the account does not indicate that these young men were killed, rather, it would seem that the bears gave them a good mauliing over leaving foruty-two badly lacerated.
If the bears had killed these young men, the account would have so indicated by stating they were torn “in pieces,” but it only says they were “torn.” It was just punishment and no doubt had a very sobering effect upon anyone else in the city who might have wished to attack Elisha also. It certainly was a lesson that theungodly residents of Bethel needed to learn, that it was unwise to blaspheme the name of Yahweh or attack His prophets with impunity.
From Bethel Elisha went to Mount Carmel and from there he returned to Samaria. Evidently he was making the rounds of the places visited by Elijah to give his report as an eye-witness of the events leading to the translation of Elijah. This would also account for the hoodlums meeting him as he came to Bethel to make his report to the prohets who resided there.
Three Kings Visit Elisha
Jehoram, the son of Ahab, reigned over Israel in Samaria while Jehoshaphat still reigned in Jerusalem over all Judah. After the death of Ahab the King of Moab rebelled against Israel, refusing to continue to pay tribute. Jehoram secured the help of the King of Judah and the King of Edom to subdue Moab’s rebellion. Having marched against Moab, their armies found no water in the valley in which they were camped and the King of Israel exclaimed:
“Alas! That the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!” (2 Kings 3:10)
Jehoshaphat asked if there was not a prophet of Yahweh among them. A servant of the King of Israel said there was Elisha who had waited upon Elijah so the three kings went to see the Prophet. Elisha said to the King of Israel:
“What have I to do with thee? [Or why do you come to me?] Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother.” (2 Kings 3:13)
The King of Israel had put away the image of Baal which his father had made but he had not turned away from the sins of Jeroboam who led Israel astray, making the two golden calves for the people to worship. One of those calves he placed at Bethel and th eother in Dan. But though the King of Israel had not turned away from the sins of Jeroboam he informed Elisha that he would not go to the prophetsof Baal. Then Elisha answered:
“As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stan, surely, wereit not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.” (2 Kings 3:14)
Three kings and their armies were in trouble and only the presence of the King of Judah made Elisha willing to give heed to their plight. The Prophet was outspoken against the Kingof Israel because of the sins of his father’s house and of his failure to turn away from the ways of Jeroboam.
Protected by the Righteous
Here is an example that the presence of one godly individual who, because he feared Yahweh, averted disaster. If Jehoshaphat had not been there Israel and Edom would have suffered defeat. What was true in Elisha’s time is also true today. Evil men have often gone to untimely graves through sudden death, the result of disasters from which tere was no protection because righteous men were not present.
A classic example of the protection Yahweh is willing to grant because of the presence of righteous men was demonstrated in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded with Yahweh to spare the cities form destruction, asking Him if He would destroy them if there were fifty righteous men in the cities. Yahweh said:
“If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then will I spare all the place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26(
Abraham continued to plead, reducing the number from fifty to forty, then to thirty and twenty, and finally to ten. Yahweh said He would not destroy the city if ten righteous men were found there.
Evil Men Unprotected
Evil men have no standing whatever in the sight of Yahweh. They are in rebellion against Him and only because He is a merciful God are they saved from immediate and overwhelming destruction. It is true also that often they are spared because the righteous are present with them, for whose sake Yahweh is long-suffering. Abraham asked the question:
“Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? ... That be far from thee to do afterthis manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Sall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23, 25)
Yes, the Judge of all the earth will do right. This should make men paus and think as terrible disasters on land, sea and in the air take their toll of life. A sudden shift in the wind and a great airliner crases. Humanly speaking, it is impossible to protect oneself against every possibility of accident. Only:
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)
In the crisis confronting the three kings, only Jehoshaphat could walk in the assurance of God’s presence andprotection as promised by the Psalmist:
“For thou, Lod, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:12)
Because of the presence of the King of Judah, Elisha knew Yahweh would deliver the three kings from their present difficult situation. The Prophet commanded that a minstrel be brught that he might play upon his harp. As the mistrel played, the word of the Lord came to Elisha:
“Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.” (2 Kings 3:17)
The armies of these three kings were evidently encamped in a valley north of Eodm at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Sudden heavy rains in the distant mountains ould send the water rushing down the valley, filling the trenches that had been dug. The stomr itself was so far away that the armies encampled in the valley did not hear the wind or see the couds and rain. However, they had to act upon faith and follow the Prophet’s instructions to dig the ditches to receive the water.
Elisha informed the three kings that it was not a difficult task for the Lord to provide water for their armies and that He would also deliver the moabits into their hands. It all transpired as the Lord had said; the water was provided and the Moabites were defeated.