Baldhead and the Youths

Read: 2 Kings 2:23-25

Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead! (v. 23)

This story definitely was not in my family’s Bible storybook! It’s often seen as an embarrassment, especially when we imagine 42 innocent schoolboys being mauled because Elisha was sensitive about his hair loss. As someone whose hair went into retreat decades ago, I want to say “get over it” to Elisha.

However, there is much understanding to be gained by digging deeper. The setting, Bethel, had become a center of idolatry. The Hebrew word translated “boys” can mean a male anywhere from age 12 to 30. The words “go up” mocked Elisha because his mentor Elijah had recently been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. How might we react if the passage read as follows: “Still mourning the loss of his mentor Elijah, Elisha traveled to Bethel, a corrupt and dangerous place for a prophet of God. A rough gang of punks came out of the city and surrounded Elisha, jeering ‘Why don’t you rise up to heaven, you baldhead, and leave us alone?’” Is it any wonder Elisha cursed them?

Yet I still am uneasy about those she-bears. This was an act of God; Elisha didn’t order it. The impact is lessened somewhat by noting that 42 young men were mauled, but it doesn’t say any of them were killed. The message is clear: an attack on the prophet was an attack on God, and we ought to be extraordinarily wary about mocking God, his servants, and any sacred thing. A little old-fashioned respect is in order. —Jeff Munroe

As you pray, contemplate what it means to respect God.

About the Author

Jeffrey Munroe is the Executive Vice President of Western Theological Seminary and, in addition to being the author of the best-selling book Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher, is also a poet, blogger, and essayist. His work has appeared in Christianity Today, The Christian Century, US Catholic, and The Reformed Journal.

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