Bald Prophets, Bear Attacks & Reading God’s Wrath – Brad Jersak with James Ihangwe

James Ihangwe

Greetings! How are we to understand the young boys in the book of kings who mocked Elisha’s bald head and were mauled to death by bears. Certainly, this could not have come from the Lord. Elisha had cursed them in the name of the Lord when the bears came and mauled them.

Bradley Jersak

I think you are correct. I think what you are saying is obviously true: CERTAINLY, this could not have come from the Lord. So when he cursed them in the name of the Lord, the violence he called for was not from the Lord.

We know this because when Elijah ‘called down fire from heaven’ to kill the 50 soldiers who came to get him (twice in a row), Jesus rebuked his disciples for suggesting they do the same. He said, “You don’t know what spirit you are of.” In other words, OT acts of death-dealing done in the name of God are not to be identified with the Spirit of Jesus, who is the revelation of God that subordinates other interpretations of the events described.

Why was it written then? Two things come to mind:

1. The narrator’s point of view: Because God let his children tell the story from their perspective, which was often inadequate even by Old Testament standards (“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness”), much less the final revelation in Christ who would say, “You have heard it said____, but I am telling you____.”

2. From the narrator’s agenda: Because the function of these stories was to generate a kind of awe in Elisha’s ministry by reporting dramatic events, miraculous accounts, and prophetic messages. The stories are about enhancing his credibility and authority as a prophet to whom the people needed to listen (very similar to the way the Ananias and Sapphira story fed into Peter’s authority). They saw this as necessary to give the people a prophetic hero who would stand courageously with God against the ungodly kings and, perhaps, encourage faithfulness to God among the people.

James Ihangwe

This is how I have always suspected we should understand that part of scripture. You have confirmed my understanding. This would then also apply to ﹰGehazi’s contraction of leprosy when he asked for Namaan’s money for his healing because God’s healing is supposed to be free. This would apply to King Uzziah’s leprosy he contracted when he entered the Holy of holies a reserve for High priests only. This would apply to Nadab and Abihu sons of Aaron who offered unholy fire to the Lord and were consumed by fire. This would also come down to the New Testament in the book of Acts to a certain king who accepted praise and worship from a delegation that had come from Tyre or Sidon, cities that had depended upon Herod for food. He was struck dead by a plague for not giving glory to God. And this would go on and on in the time of King David when he conducted a census incited by Satan and had to dearly pay for it. Thanks so much for your book a more A More Christlike Word which I am now reading for the third time.

Bradley Jersak

Yes, … John 10:10 is such a key textual filter for our interpretation: Jesus said, “It is the THIEF who steals, kills, and destroys. But I [God’s Word about himself] come to bring LIFE and that to the FULL.” I.e., Jesus shows us that God is life-giver, not a death-dealer.
It’s important, of course, not to merely dismiss these texts, but to see how they represent our struggle to make sense of God’s involvement in our world, sometimes even inside our misapprehension of God’s nature and our misappropriation of the Scriptures. “God let his children tell the story” (Pete Enns) and in telling the story, they communicate important truths, not only about the reality of God in our lives, but also of how God’s people continue (to this day!) to misrepresent God as a tribal warrior, vengeful and violent … but also, we come to see how Christ and his apostles could see these same texts (even the dubious accounts) prefigure God’s far greater universal victory over death itself and his ongoing opposition to everything in us that is “not of love’s kind” (cf. George MacDonald).
A fantastic essay by my godfather, David Goa, on “Reading the Bible as Life-giving Word,” which does a deep dive on this topic. CLICK HERE to download the PDF: Reading+the+Bible+as+Life-Giving+Word+-+David+J.+Goa+and+Dittmar+Mündel 
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Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More