Don't Let the Bear Get You

I was asked to preach at our youth service this past Sunday night at Gospel Light. I love youth services. There's always such a hunger and a desire for something there, especially when there are new youth present.

Worship was great. Our youth worship team is largely made up as the same people as Gospel Light's regular team, but in different roles, some different people, and with a different feel and vibe. They did six songs, but the two that really struck me were "From the Inside Out" and "Hosanna."

I'll be honest. I am not by any stretch a fire-and-brimstone preacher, and I will never be a televangelist. I am what might be called a teacher-preacher. I kind follow a traditional three-step process - exegisis, exposition, hermeneutics. Basically, describe what it says, what it means, and how it applies. Or, as my old English lit teacher used to say: "Tell 'em what your gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em." There's an example of that here.

I was a little nervous with this one. The scripture that God had placed on my heart was one that I had never heard preached, and I had not found anyone who had heard it preached. The verses were 2Kings 2:

23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 25 Then he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

Ok, so lets look at it... here are my notes. When I preach, I typically do not read my notes, I glance at them from time to time. But they are as good a resource as I have to offer.

Historical context:

Elijah had become deeply dejected and depressed. This was a time of severe crisis in Israel. Elijah had been on the run from Jezebel, and had fled into the wilderness of Beersheeba. He had prayed to the Lord that he be "taken from the Earth" (1Kings 19)Elijah's prayer had been answered by God - his work was completed.

Elisha had thus begun to literally follow in Elijah's footsteps, retracing his route. He first heals the bitter waters of Jericho.

Elisha travels from Jericho to Bethel. This is a twenty-mile journey on foot. Jericho is 1300 feet below sea level, in a valley. Bethel is 2000 feet above sea level, on a hill. The journey is long and tiresome, additionally so because Elisha is not welcomed anywhere. He is also despairing himself - on his own inadequacy, on the (apparent) futility of Elijah's ministry, on his own lack of prospects.

There are many critics of this story; rather there are many critics of God who hold this story up as an example of why to hate God. Interesting, that athiests absolutely believe this story.

As Elisha approaches Bethel, he comes upon a group of young people. Let's look at that. Most English translations will render this verse 23 as "little children." So we have a picture of a group of small children playing, and seeing a funny-looking man approach, and decide to make fun of him. Right?

Not so fast.

There is a problem here with the translation. The phrase little children comes from the Hebrew ketaniam and na'ar. Now, the exact usage of these words is pretty vague, especially na'ar, which seems to be used variously for a lot of different meanings. We do know, though, that this word is used to describe Issac in Genesis 22, when God tells Abraham "do not harm the lad." Most scholars think Isaac may have been in his late teens at that point, if not older. Na'ar is also used in Genesis 37 to refer to Joseph, in the same verse where it was indicated he was 17 years old. It is also used in 1 Kings to describe the men in a military company. So we can be pretty certain that we're not talking about ten-year-old boys here. We're probably talking about boys of somewhere around fifteen to seventeen or so.

Keep in mind as well, that verse 24 says that the bears mauled forty-two of them. Which means that there was at least forty-two of them there.

Elisha was in in deep trouble here. "Bald head" was not a minor, or harmless insult. Losing ones hair was often one of the first symptoms of leprosy, and the Israelites viewed lepers as being unclean and sinful. This was a deep, cutting insult. There is a word in the English language that serves no other purpose than to keep down people of color. The word qereach contains exacltly that sort of loathing and venom. Whether or not Elisha was actually bald - who knows. it doesn't matter. The law and tradition would have dictated that he had his head covered anyway. And, he was likely wearing a prophet's mantle - indicating he was annointed of God. So this mob of young men were hurling vile, despicable insults at an obvious man of God.

Let's look at what they were telling him, as well. "Go on up!" What kind of insult is that?

Remember what had just happened to Elijah. He had just "gone up" to Heaven, or at least the story went. The people in Bethel would have heard this story. They probably would have not believed it, but they would have heard it. And they would know that Elijah was gone. Don't forget, most people hated Elijah. So in essence, they were telling this man of God - "I hope you die, or go away and never come back. "

Ok, so... Elisha (a young man himself) comes upon a large group of young thugs, who are clearly threatening him. Changes things a little.

How do we deal with threatening situations?

How did Elisha. He "cursed" the youth. Why? (BTW, this is not cursing at them)
This was actually the proper, law-abiding response! Leviticus 26 speaks of what will happen if God's people do not obey Him:

22:I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate.

Sound familiar?

Elisha, as a prophet of God, was bound to do exacly what he did: leave the situation in the hands of God. The text says that Elish cursed them in the name of the Lord. It was not Elisha who called the bears - how could he?

Elisha did what was right - he called upon God to do what was right and just. And God's justice required that He be true to His word. Elisha did what we need to do when faced with threatening challenges - call upon the name of the Lord.

I'm not talking about minor setback. There are things that we face in our lives that are dangerous. There are things that will threaten our very existence - spiritually, physically, wahtever. We are told in Ephesians that our battlefield is not a physical one, but we should still be prepared to face threats. And we can rely on the fact that those threats will get what they deserve.

So let's look at what Elisha did and did not do in the face of these dangerous challenges:

He did not - run away and hide
He did not - complain to God He did not - act out of self-preservation (they were mocking God's messenger)
He did not - try to argue with them (cast pearls before the swine, Mat 7:6)He did not - take matters into his own hands

He did - Rely on God
He did - remember the Word of God
He did - face the challenge head on
He did - take up the armor that God had provided
He did - leave them to get what they deserved (removed the blessing)

So what do we do when faced with danger?

People criticise us, ridicule us, threaten us? How do we respond?

Do we leave it to God? Do we remember the word? Do we handle it ourselves?

Was the end result of this cruel? I think not. God's justice is according to His word. Often we are told to allow the sinner to sin if he will not accept the message of God. Jesus told us to "shake the dust off" our feet wherever the Gospel is not accepted. Paul told us to give the brother who persists in sin "over to the world."

Elisha was simply saying that God would remove His devine protection from these youth - that they would simply be treated the way they deserved. Imagine how we would deserve to be treated if we were not under God's grace. Once God's grace was removed, it was simply a matter of the bears acting according to their natures. But one needs to think about this: two bears mauled forty-two youth? Why could they not get away? Were they so mired in their sin that they would not flee? Is there an escape from judgement when God's grace is removed?

The altar call was an invitation to look inward on how we face challenges and obstacles, to be thankful for God's grace in times of trouble and darkness. To see God for who He is - an understanding provider and protector. I played a song called "Never" by Mandy Thompson, which I thought really spoke to the moment.


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