Stranger Things from the Bible: Elisha and the Bears

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers
Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

As I write this, we are just over a month away from the release of Tom Hanks’ new biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The trailer has sparked nostalgia for Mr. Rogers; drawing people back to his model of kindness, especially to children.

As a child of the times, I can tell you that Fred Rogers showed me kindness through a black and white TV screen that few adults ever showed me in real life.

And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have sicced bears on me.

Elisha was No Mr. Rogers

The second story in our journey through the Stranger Things from the Bible takes us to 2 Kings and the wicked city of Bethel. It’s here that newly appointed prophet, Elisha, is verbally assaulted by youths and responds with a curse. God hears his “prayer” and promptly responds by sending two bears out of the woods to maul them.

Disturbing story? You bet! Stranger thing from the Bible? Of course! But it’s a lot of fun to preach!

Elisha - 1453 French manuscript
The story of 2 Kings 2 from a 1453 French manuscript.

Timeless Lessons . . . and Bears

I had looked for an excuse to preach this story for years. At one time, I had considered preaching it with the title, “Bears Win by 42.” That’s perhaps a little insensitive to the heart of the story, though. Also, it would likely only appeal to Bears fans.

Still, it would be a lot of fun!

Part of the challenge of preaching it is the story is much broader than we first realize. This isn’t just about boys, bears, and a bald prophet. The story really begins at the start of the chapter, with Elijah’s assumption. It continues with a trip through Jericho and then finally the incident at Bethel. The bears are just the culmination of a really bad day and Israel’s rebellion into wickedness.

Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman
Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman (Deviantart)
Maybe not the best coloring page for your Sunday School class.

Check Your Presuppositions

There are a few issues that we need to check when reading the story. I cover them in the sermon as best I could at the time. The age of the “small boys” is one issue. The Hebrew would allow for them to be anywhere from 12-30 years old (and Elisha is likely only 25). This isn’t a matter of the man of God feeling threatened by the local elementary school thugs. And, of course, the text only tells us that 42 were mauled. It says nothing about how many were doing the actual jeering.

I wish I had read Derek Rishmawy’s excellent article on the passage before I wrote my sermon. He offers some intriguing takes on Elisha’s baldness and what it might mean. He’s researched the passage well and has much to offer.

Bald prophet, Bears, Bad Bethel Boys

Elisha and the Bears

This is, without a doubt, the most popular of the sermons from my Stranger Things from the Bible series. The audio file has been played three times as much as the other sermons. I’ve also found it’s a great sermon for when I’m a guest preacher. As I often say, “This one’s got legs.”