In his post Bad Boy Bible Study meets Ship of Fools David Ker challenged me, along with sixteen other bloggers, to outline a sermon on 2 Kings 2:23-24, the story about Elisha and the bears who killed 42 bad boys – although arguably the real bad boy in the story is Elisha:
Here are the rules:
- You’ve been asked to teach or preach on this passage.
- What would you say?
Well, maybe not so simple. I could decline the tag on the basis that I am not a preacher. But then I am a bit of a frustrated preacher, and so I will accept the challenge. Here is the passage, in TNIV:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 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 boys.
What can I say? I could muse on the significance of 42. The number of life, the universe and everything? But that’s not from the Bible, it’s from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The number of humanity (6) multiplied by the number of perfection (7)? Possibly, and so indicating that the whole of humanity is perfectly cursed by God – no, that must be Alexander’s Sword exegesis. Or perhaps the only significance of 42 is that this was historically the number of boys who were torn in pieces – probably a more accurate translation of the Hebrew than “maul” (compare the same word in 2 Kings 8:12, 15:16 and Hosea 13:8, 16, all translated in TNIV “rip open”, which has perhaps tried to mitigate the violence in 2 Kings 2:24).
But there is one real sermon point I would want to take from this passage. That is about the power of a prophet’s words.
Elisha as a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit had within him the power and authority of God, with which he was able to pronounce a curse on the boys which was not mere words but had immediate effect. Similarly there is authority in our words as Spirit-filled Christians, and by that I mean all true Christians. God has given us the right to ask for anything in Jesus’ name and promised to give it to us (John 14:13-14, 15:7, 16:23, in context). Sometimes he does this even when it is not a good thing, as the Israelites who craved meat found out when they received quail which brought a plague (Numbers 11:4, 31-34). The same is true of Elisha’s curse on the boys: God answered it by sending the bears even though that was not a good thing.
So, as Christians, we must be careful not to ask for bad things or pray curses on people, but instead we should bless them and ask for what is good.