On The Attack
One of the passages of scripture that I often see skeptics cite, in order to bring charge against the Bible, is the story of Elisha and the forty two children being mauled by two she bears. I do understand that any explanation of this account will not be suffice for some, and for others (who wish to remain skeptics) that see a credible answer, will likely just move on to other passages to keep the charges coming. We must keep in mind that a sound answer is not usually sought anyways, but the opposite. I’m speaking from experience here. Lets read the passage that’s in question (emphasis mine).
(King James Version) 2 Kings 2:23-24 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children (na‛ar) 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 (yeled) of them.
There can be no doubt that this story ends in tragedy but what’s often overlooked is who/what the children were. At a quick reading of this scripture, it seems as if the prophet Elisha maliciously condemned little children (some have said under ten years of age) for simply making fun of him. The unfortunate translating of two Hebrew words into English, both rendered as “children”, don’t quite give us the full scope to their range of meaning. The word na‛ar has been applied to various individuals who were clearly not children at all. Isaac was called na‛ar when he was twenty eight years old.  Joseph was also called na‛ar when he was thirty nine.  There are other passages where this word applies to grown men. The word yeled has similar renderings, so there’s no need for us to continue further in this point.
Even if these were grown men, it still seems to be a harsh act for Elisha to curse them for making fun of him, right? Well, lets look at what was potentially going on here. We can’t truly know for sure since we weren’t there, but there are some clues to what was happening. It appears that these men were doing more than mocking him, but likely were threatening the prophet. By telling him to “go up”, that could be viewed as a threat to exit this world -like his mentor Elijah miraculously did- or they would see to it through another means. And with a forty two verses one scenario, they easy could have overcome him, barring a miracle, and that’s where the she bears come in to intervene.
It’s also possible that he may not have been in danger at all, but was being mocked only. However, this is still a serious charge in the Old Testament before the new Covenant of Grace was initiated. God, for various reasons, placed his prophets under a serious oath (to keep purity and holiness at the forefront) and those that crossed them were not to be tolerated. Another example of this would be where two hundred and fifty people tried to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron. Those men didn’t fare too well.  This was in order to keep the Jews from apostatizing like the pagan nations did; after all, they were the people to preserve God’s Word and ultimately produce the Messiah  for all of mankind. If God were to allow a lax of law, the lukewarmness of the people would have ensued and this reality might never have materialized.
*Edit: Here’s a video that gives even more clarification than what I have written above. I highly recommend that you watch it. [VIDEO LINK]
1. (King James Version) Genesis 21:12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
2. (King James Version) Genesis 41:12 And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret.
3. (King James Version) Numbers 16:28-33 “Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”
4. (King James Version) Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed (Jesus, the messiah); it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.