God slaughtered a group of 42 children simply for mocking Elijah's baldness. Is that good?

We are teachers and are used to mouthy and rude children. They are young and often foolish and they can say and do very hurtful things. It is normal. It is part of growing up.

In the Bible (2 Kings 2), a group of young children mock Elijah for his bald head. Elijah curses them and God sends two, angry bears to rip them to pieces. Forty two children are killed by God because they made fun of Elijah's bald head.

2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
2:24 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 of them.

I am lost for words. I didn't know about this story until a few days ago and I am appalled. Is this a good God? Does this God deserve our respect? What kind of psychopath murders 42 children because they called him names?

Expert Answers

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This is also one of those many instances in The Bible where multiple translations and the passage of time could well have distorted the original intentions of the message.  It also underscores the stark differences between the Old Testament and its stories of God's wrath and the New Testament principles of love and forgiveness.

Pohnpei has already cautioned against taking the text too literally, but if the message one takes out of the story is that mocking is sinful, rather than this being an eyewitness account to the slaughter of children, I think most religious people would say that is a wiser way to approach such a story.

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It is important that every story in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, not be taken literally. There are other stories that to our modern ears are just as horrible: Lot sleeping with his own daughters to make sure his line continued; Jehoshaphat sacrificing his daughter rather than break his oath; and the slaughter of thousands of people in the early days of the conquest of Canaan.

Certainly no one believes that the God most of us worship is a vengeful God, certainly not a petty one. There is, I think, in the Old Testament, a tendency to pass on stories to teach a lesson, similar to Grimm's Fairy Tales. The lesson here is that children should not mock older people, not that God sent bears to destroy them. Medieval Fairy tales (often watered down in modern telling) normally had grim (no pun intended) even gory endings; but all were to teach a lesson to children in a fearful way. Perhaps this passage about Elijah means the same thing.

Under any circumstances, I for one do not think we should take every word of the Bible literally. There are contradictions from time to time; we need to consider its entire content as a whole to understand its greater message.



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That story is one of the reasons why it seems that it makes no sense to take the
Bible literally.  First of all, it is hard to believe that God goes around controlling bears to make his points for him.  Secondly, as you point out, it does not seem moral for God to do this.  If you look at the Bible as books written by people to make religious points or if you look at it as a mix of reporting and legend-writing, it makes more sense.  This story stops looking so immoral and depraved and starts to look, instead, like a fairy tale meant to point out that the prophets of God should be honored.

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