Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thugs and she-bears

Atheists love to quote this passage. One complication is the age-range denoted by ne’arim qetanim, which is ambiguous. For instance, Solomon uses that descriptor to characterize himself in 1 Kgs 3:7. Perhaps he's waxing hyperbolic since he certainly wasn't a little child when he became king. He was probably a young adult. So there's no presumption that 2 Kgs 2:23-25 refers to preadolescent boys. They act like juvenile delinquents. The size of the group suggests street gang.  In context they seem to be young thugs. But we can't be too precise one way or the other. 

The text itself is hyperbolic inasmuch as two bears couldn't maul all 42 boys. It's not as if they'd stand there, waiting to be mauled, one by one. Rather, they'd scatter in all directions, running for their lives. 

I'd add that bears are larger in North America and smaller in hotter climates. It's misleading for a reader to conjure an image of a grizzly bear or Kodiak bear. In addition, due to sexual dimorphism, she-bears are significantly smaller than their male counterparts. 

So the reader needs to avoid exaggerating what happened. They learned a very painful lesson. 


  1. Two small female bears could not kill 42 young boys/men if the story is naturalistic. I've always assumed it was more than a naturalistic story. Does it have to be hyperbolic?

    1. I think the point is that the she-bears lunged at the youths. Some may have been injured, but the point was to send a message. All of them didn't have to be injured to get the message.

    2. I didn't say 2 Kgs 2:23-25 is hyperbolic. My point is that I don't think the reader is meant to visualize 2 bears systematically hunting down 42 boys, one after another. Rather, I think we should visualize the bears rushing the boys, the boys running away in different directions, the bears chasing some of them, overtaking and injuring some of them, which gives the other boys time to get away.

  2. Skeptics wanting to ridicule the text will want to affirm the full number of 42 youths to make the God of Israel look like a real meanie. But if you take the number 42 as literal, you'd have to ask yourself how 42 very young boys would gather together without their many parents to be around to protect them from the bears. That makes it more likely that Steve's suggestion that they may have been (IMO likely) juvenile delinquents.

    If the number is symbolic, then I would agree with what some like E.W. Bullinger says about the number 42. In his book "Number in Scripture" he wrote:


    is a number connected with Antichrist. An important part of his career is to last for 42 months (Rev 11:2, 13:5), and thus this number is fixed upon him. Another number of Antichrist is 1260, and this is 30 x 42.

    Its factors are six and seven (6x7=42), and this shows a connection between man and the Spirit of God, and between Christ and Antichrist:

    Forty-two stages of Israel's wanderings mark their conflict with the will of God.
    Forty-two young men* mocked the ascension of Elijah to Elisha, 2 Kings 2:23, 24.
    * See note on p. 203.

    Being a multiple of seven, it might be supposed that it would be connected with spiritual perfection. But it is the product of six times seven. Six, therefore, being the number of Man, and man's opposition to God, forty-two becomes significant of the working out of man's opposition to God.

    There may be something more in the common phrase about things being all "sixes and sevens." They are so, indeed, when man is mixed up with the things of God, and when religious "flesh" engages in spiritual things. See under "Six and Seven," pp. 158-167.//
    [BOLD above added by me- AP]

    1. Regarding the number six, Bullinger wrote:

      //Six is either 4 plus 2, i.e., man's world (4) with man's enmity to God (2) brought in: or it is 5 plus 1, the grace of God made of none effect by man's addition to it, or perversion, or corruption of it: or it is 7 minus 1, i.e., man's coming short of spiritual perfection. In any case, therefore, it has to do with man; it is the number of imperfection; the human number; the number of MAN as destitute of God, without God, without Christ......//

      Bullinger says more, but that should suffice to suggest why the number 6 is associated with sinful man in the Bible.

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    3. Another possibility is that the number 42 is both literal and symbolic. If God's providence is as exhaustive as Calvinism teaches, then God could have orchestrated history so that both are true. I think there are instances in Scripture where a number is not literal and symbolic. But we shouldn't automatically assume a number isn't literal merely because it seems implausible or uncomfortable as Christians. Since I believe God IS sovereign and can orchestrate seemingly impossible or coincidentally unlikely historical events.

      Regarding this specific case of 42 youths, I don't necessarily think it's impossible that it they were literally 42 youths. One can imagine a situation where 42 kids are trapped in a "corner" at the bottom of a hill, or in a cave they ran into. It could be that there were 60 kids and that 18 were smart enough not to run with the pack into a trap. Bears can be pretty smart (especially via divine assistance as in the case of Balaam's donkey). The she-bears could have herded the youths toward their favorite hunting grounds.

      She-bears are known to be very protective of their young. For all we know, the youths were not only mocking Elisha, but were also foolishly messing around with a young cub or cubs. Doing so contrary to the wise counsel of their parents regarding respecting both Yehovah and wild animals. Either way, just as she-bears protect their young, so it seems Yehovah protected and defended His ward's honor and His own glory.

      If they were a gang of juvenile delinquents, this incident might have been the last straw and God Himself finally carried out the provision in the Law against incorrigibly rebellious youths.

      18 "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,
      19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,
      20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
      21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.- Deut. 21:18-21

    4. Notice how Deuteronomy describes a rebellious son as being a drunkard. If the 42 youths were inebriated, that would have made running from she bears that much more difficult.

  3. Steve's points about this passage are spot on. I did a Bible study lesson on this a few years ago. My notes are here. They contain a few good bibliographic items as well for further research on this passage: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2015/11/elisha-bears-and-killing-of-children-2.html