Elisha and the 42 Children

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Taken at face value, this seems excessive. I mean it was just a bunch of kids just acting like kids, right? And yet Elisha the prophet thought it was appropriate to kill them all just because his feelings were hurt. In fact, in cursing them in the name of the Lord, it was ultimately God who sent the two bears. Most people will see this as unjust killing which further illustrates that God is evil and capricious. But is that in fact the case in this scenario? Was Elisha (and ultimately God) just in his actions against these innocent kids who were just acting like kids? That is the objection I will be dealing with in this blog post.

First, the Hebrew word used for children in this text is also used for young men. The Hebrew word used for “children,” is also used to describe Joseph in Genesis 37:2, who was 17 years old at the time, and refers to army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15. In addition it was used to describe the baby Moses in Exodus 2:6 but that’s the only time it refers to a baby. At other times it refers to a servant of unknown age. Instead of children, it’s more appropriate to say mature adolescents or young men.

Second, The Hebrew word for “little” is the word most critics hang onto in order to justify the view that these are actually children. While the word will frequently refer to size, it also refers to quality of significance. For example: It is used to compare the moon to the sun (Genesis 1:6); it refers to insignificant legal cases (Exodus 18:26); as well as “lesser” weights (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is also used to mean “young” when referring to persons who are obviously old enough to be mature (such as those surrounding Lot’s house and demanding to rape the visitors, Gen. 19:11).

Third, there was over 42 young men taunting Elisha. Does that not seem like an odd scenario? It seems rather odd that a crowd of over 42 young men only banded together for the sole purpose of insulting someone. Could it be that this crowd of young men could actually mean physical harm after their insults? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how many young men. We know its over 42 but out of of how many people? 42 out of 50? 42 out of 100? 42 out of 500? There’s no evidence that these young men were innocent and only intended to insult God’s prophet after which they peacefully left. Also there’s no evidence that these young men were intending to rob/beat/kill Elisha after their insults as well. So if the critic is going to just assume that they are innocent young men only intending to insult and then peacefully leave why should I not assume that they were intending to harm Elisha? I don’t know. God knows though. And He thought it was an appropriate to act to protect Elisha.

Fourth, there is not enough biblical evidence to suggests that the crowd of over 42 young men were actually killed. There are two main points I want to make in this area:

Point 1: These were most likely Syrian Brown bears. These bears would typically weigh between 400-500lbs. For a comparison, female American black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. and female American Grizzly bears weigh 290-440 lbs. The point is that 42 young men being injured or killed from just two of these bears is hard to imagine unless the crowd of men fought back instead of running away, seeking safety.

Point 2: The Hebrew word that was used to describe the action the two bears did to the 42 men does not mean “killed,” “devoured,” or anything similar. It means to “break open” which is used for chopping wood (Genesis 22:3), ripping garments (Joshua 9:13), an egg hatching (Isaiah 34:15), or breaking through an army (2 Kings 3:26). The use in this passage in 2 Kings could possibly be a way of saying that the bears scattered the young men, not that they killed them.

Fifth, it’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t Elisha who is responsible for the injuries or deaths (if there were any) of the 42 young, aggressive men, it was God who was responsible. God is the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe. His very nature is the standard of holiness, righteousness, and justice. And He is ultimately the very source of all life. If He wants to take your life, He has the right and authority to do such an action whether directly or indirectly and for whatever reason He deems necessary. It’s important not to think of God as a super-powerful human being but an all-knowing and all-powerful being who keeps the universe in being by his sovereign will. For God, it is not murder or killing when he takes someone from this life. He’s merely moving you from one plane of existence to another plane of existence…and no matter how much we might not like that, God, as the source of life, has the authority to do that and we do not.

Maybe these were not 42 innocent little kids. They were more likely a crowd of over 42 young men who wanted to do more than just insult God’s prophet and then peacefully leave. In showing aggression toward Elisha, God acted to protect his prophet. Even if deaths or injuries occurred, there is nothing evil and unjust in what God or Elisha did in this scenario.

Notes: I owe some of my insights on this tough passage to this article:
http://www.tektonics.org/film/elisha2bears.html

Why Do Prayers Go Unanswered?

Matthew 7:7: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

John 14:13: Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:16: You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

John 16:23: In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

Jesus evidently meant business when he said he would answer our prayers, which is really great! The problem arises when we pray for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. Every Christian has faced the dilemma of unanswered prayer at some point in their walk with God. Sadly, some folks who once believed even turn away from God because they pray for something they deem very important but it never happens.

Why would God not answer our prayers even if we pray in Jesus’ name?

Here are a few reasons that apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig gives in his book Hard Questions, Real Answers:

Contradictory prayers. One common sense reason that God cannot answer our prayers is because Christians pray contradictory things. Examples abound. Two guys praying they will marry the same girl. Thousands of people praying their favorite football team will win the game. Millions of people praying they will will the same $60 billion lottery. God couldn’t answer them all because they contradict each other.

Sin in our lives. One of the most basic reasons for unanswered prayer is unconfessed sin in our lives. Jesus’ promise of answered prayer presupposes that the Christian is living in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian who is living in unconfessed sin can have no confidence that his prayers will be answered.

Psalm 66:18: If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

1 Peter 3:7: You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Wrong motive. Many times our prayers go unanswered because of wrong motives. Often times our motives are selfish. Even though Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you, James, Jesus’ half-brother, elaborates:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:3).

Self-centered prayer does not fall under Jesus’ promise. The correct motive for prayer should be God’s glory. This should be our motive in prayer: to request things of God, not for our selfish desires, but that His name might be glorified (John 12:28).

Lack of faith.* Jesus made clear that only believing prayer can be assured of an answer. He told his disciples: Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). James, speaking of someone’s prayer for wisdom, says:

When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1:6-8).

It would not be right, however, to suggest that in every case, a person who has doubts in their heart cannot receive the answer they desire to their prayer. Take the man with the son with the unclean spirit in Mark 9. The man acknowledges his lack of faith and yet Christ still is willing to do what the man asked him to do.

Lack of earnestness. Sometimes our prayers are not answered because, quite frankly, we don’t really care whether they are. We casually pray in our prayer meetings for a request but then shortly after we forget about it. In the end we don’t really care. Read the prayers of the many prophets and biblical figures in the Bible. Were they flippant in their prayer requests? What about Jesus? Read Jesus’ prayers in the Gospels and determine for yourself if he cared at all for his prayer requests to God.

Lack of perseverance. Our lack of persistence may be one reason our prayers are not answered. We pray once and then we give up too easily. Some Christians believe that all you have to do is pray once and you’re done. But that is not a teaching of Jesus. Remember the parable Jesus told his disciples about the friend coming at midnight to borrow some bread from his neighbor. The neighbor wouldn’t get up at first but because the friend kept pounding on the door and wouldn’t give up, the neighbor gets up and gives him the bread (Luke 11:5-8).

Or recall the parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8). The unrighteous judge did not want to grant the woman’s request but she kept pestering him so much that he would grant his request. The point of the parable is we should always pray and not give up (18:1).

Finally, and most significantly, our request must be in accordance with God’s will if it is to be granted. The apostle John highlights this in 1 John 5:14-15:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

As much as we may not like this at times, a big reasons our prayers often go unanswered is because God knows better than we do what ought to be done. We may believe we know the best way forward or the best solution to a thorny problem, but we are limited in time, space, knowledge, and insight. But the transcendent God sees the end from the beginning and knows what outcomes and solutions work together best for our good and for His glory. Sometimes it is for our own good for us not to have our prayers answered.**

Notes

*Be careful not to confuse this point with the teaching of some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel which says that blessing comes in proportional measure to your faith. The bible does not teach the Prosperity Gospel. Read this excellent article titled “‘Just Have More Faith’: How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering” for a balanced perspective regarding the connection between faith and answered prayer.

**I borrowed heavily from the book, Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig, Chapter 2 to write this post and I recommend reading that if people want a more in depth look at this issue.

Should Christians Submit to Earthly Authorities?

In the days of the Roman empire, when Christians were arrested and commanded to burn incense to the emperor or go to their death, countless Christians were thrown to the wild beasts. Brave young women like Perpetua and Felicity firmly believed that worship belonged to Jesus Christ alone, the one true living God and King, so they refused to offer sacrifices to the earthly kings of the day and paid the price with their lives.

The testimony of Perpetua (a summary can be read here or her full prison diary can be read here) has strengthened Christians of all stripes for centuries to be strong when facing persecution.

However, this kind of situation is hard for Christian Americans to fathom. America has long been a land where its citizens have enjoyed the freedom to practice their religion and worship as they desire without government intrusion and control.

Over time, these rights have created a sense of total autonomy and self-determination which have crept into many of the houses of worship across our land. We’ve conflated the idea of worshiping God alone and obeying God alone. The result, in the minds of many American believers today, is that if you are a religious person, no one but God has the right to tell you what to do. And with the very same vigor which Perpetua refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor, some believers today refuse to submit to earthly authorities.

But is this right? Is this understanding of authority biblical? Are Christians required to submit to earthly authorities?

There are a handful of places in the Scriptures that I think will help us to answer this question. Let’s start with the Gospels.

Jesus and the Earthly Authorities

Several weeks ago I preached a message on Luke 2:41-52 about the Boy Jesus at the Temple.

One of the most remarkable statements in that entire section can be found in verse 51:

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. “

-Luke 2:51

So right off the bat we see Jesus submitting to an earthly authority, namely, his parents. But why did Jesus submit to his parents?

First of all, it was not because they were perfect people. Not only does that Bible teach that all have sinned and fallen short (Rom. 3:23), but we see evidence of Joseph and Mary’s imperfect parenting in this very chapter of Luke. After discovering that Jesus was not with them after venturing probably a day ‘s journey from Jerusalem, they return to Jerusalem to discover Jesus in the temple conversing with the teachers of the day. Mary and Joseph are astonished at what the teachers in the temple are telling them about their son (v. 48). But Jesus is astonished at something else–that Mary and Joseph did not know that the Temple was where He would be (v. 49).

Yet, despite Mary and Joseph’s flaws, we find Jesus, the perfect Son of God, submitting to them. Jesus does not rebuke them harshly. He does not ignore their concern for his whereabouts. He does not argue with them. He does not use their ignorance or miscalculation as a reason to not submit to them.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, submitted to them even when their judgment was flawed and limited.

Secondly, we know that Jesus did not submit to the earthly authorities of his time because he had no other recourse.

In another place in the Gospels, when Jesus is being dragged away by the chief priests and the elders of the people at Gethsemane (Matt. 26:47-56), Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus then says to him,

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Matthew 26:52-53

Jesus had power to overcome the authorities that day, but he did not. He chose to submit to them, rather than summon down the angels and annihilate the authorities.

Again I ask, why?

All Authority Comes from God

Jesus himself gives us the answer in John 19 when he is on trial before Pontius Pilate:

“Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Then Jesus said, ‘You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.'”

John 19:10-11

In John 19, Jesus is speaking to a civil authority, but his comments can rightly be applied to all human authorities–parental (family), ecclesiastical (church), vocational (work) or otherwise. Authority is given to presidents, governors, parents and elders and the like, by God (see passages like Ephesians 6:2; Colossians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13-18; 5:1-5).

Jesus submitted to earthly authorities, because they were instituted and put in place by God himself–their authority was given to them by God. By being subject to them Jesus brought honor and glory to God. Broadly speaking, not submitting to these authorities was tantamount to not submitting to God (with some exceptions which will be addressed briefly below).

This is why Paul says in Romans 13:1-5

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

But surely we are not required to submit to the authorities in every case, are we?

What happens when an authority that is set up by God commands something that is contrary to what God would command? Jesus’ was able to submit to Joseph and Mary because they were not asking him to sin (at least not in the example mentioned above). Now that we live in the New Testament era we know that Jesus allowed the authorities to take Him away and crucify Him at the end because that was the Father’s plan all along (Acts 4:27-28). But how does this apply to us?

Godly Disobedience

If you take Romans 13:1-2 without looking at the canonical context (all of Scripture), this passage could be used to justify support of Hitler and the Nazi’s in WWII. But when we look at the whole Bible, we find examples of godly people not submitting to authorities when what was being asked of them was sinful.

Daniel 3 and the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image is a good example of godly disobedience. When the Babylonian officials blew the horn and demanded that everyone gathered at the dedication ceremony bow and pay homage to the image, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship. Their response to the king’s demand is worth quoting:

“[B]e it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:18

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were right not to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s commands in this instance because what he was asking was sinful–to obey would have been tantamount to sin itself (see Exodus 20:3-5).

Another remarkable biblical instance of disobedience to governing authorities can be found in Exodus 1. At this point in the Bible the Israelites had been living under Egyptian rule for several centuries. Over time they had become very numerous, so in verse 16 the king of Egypt commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys born to the Israelites. But verse 17 says, “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” If you read the verses following the decision of the Hebrew midwives, God honored their decision, even though they were not being subject to the civil authorities that God himself had placed over them.

There are New Testament examples of similar disobedience as well (see Acts 4 and 5 for example).

Clearly from these examples (and others), Paul’s remarks in Romans 13 cannot simply mean that Christians should always and in every case submit to the commands of the governing authorities. These stories reveal that there is a time when followers of God are obligated to object and disobey.

Something in Romans 13 needs to be qualified. I do not think that we need to qualify Paul’s statement (or Daniel’s in Daniel 2:21) that all authority is set up by God. Rather, John Piper suggests in a very helpful article tilted “The Limits of Submission to Man“, that Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-5 has in view a good government in which “doing good deeds will generally find approval and doing evil will generally be punished.” In other words, the government that Paul has in mind in Romans 13:1-5 is one that defines good conduct and bad conduct roughly the same way God does (see verse 3). Paul’s instructions therefore pertain to the case in which a person finds themselves subject to a good government that generally does what is right in the sight of God.

Conclusion

So what are we to make of all of this?

The Christian who says they are subject to no person but God alone is sorely mistaken, but so is the Christian who always submits to authority, even when that authority is asking them to sin.

To put it simply, when your leaders command you to do something that directly goes against the commands of God, you are to disobey them, no matter the consequences, like the Hebrew midwives, Daniel, Perpetua, and thousands of other Christians over the centuries. However, when the commands of your leaders (presidents, governors, parents, pastors, bosses) do not contradict the commands of God, you are to be subject to them because doing so is to be subject to God and brings honor and glory to Him.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 11: Loves Truth

Whether they know it or not, unbelievers live under the influence and the guise of the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44). Satan is known as the deceiver (Genesis 3) and loves to keep people in the darkness of falsehood. Yet, the follower of Christ has now determined that God’s testimony of His Son and His verdict against the unbeliever’s sin is true. She repents and believes. With this profound realization, the disciple is now liberated to fully trust God and to watch Him work in her life. She now understands the words that Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32).

She has discovered that God’s Word is truth and she agrees with Jesus when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). She now knows that God’s word is true and the means to change her heart and life. And not only does she value truth, she realizes that instead of living in a world of lies, she now must make integrity and honestly a defining mark of her walk with God. God knows all, sees all and calls His people to a life of truthfulness. The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” She now wishes to hear truth, believe truth, love truth and live truthfully and honestly.

This reality entered my own life just after I became a Christian. Growing up, I had never been a big cheater in the academic world. But I have to admit that I had been a desperate cheater a few times in my life while going through the public education experience. I never felt good about it, but cheating was better than the negative consequences of failing. I cheated on exams a few times in both junior high school as well as in high school Chemistry. When I became a Christian, I was just a few weeks into a difficult transition to college and I had almost quit. A few weeks later, however, I gave (or surrendered) my life to God. Soon afterward, I faced my first exam in Psychology 101. I knew that my assigned seat was situated at the perfect angle to see the exam answers on a classmate (and dorm-mate) of mine by the name of Paul. He made A’s in everything in high school and was quite accomplished intellectually. However, I still remember praying, “Lord, I am not going to cheat on this exam. I know that you do not approve of cheating. It is dishonest, so Lord, I am going to walk by faith and trust you to take care of me no matter what happens on that exam or any other exam in the future. I must live a life of honesty as a Christian.” I don’t recall exactly how I did on that exam. I do recall that I did well and not poorly. I also know that I never cheated in school again and I always looked to God for my success in the classroom, trusting Him for the results of hard study.

The decision I faced that fall day in 1972 was a commitment to Christ’s lordship over my life, an act of obedience and a choice to be true – and not false – before the only One who was really watching, the God of Truth. Trusting God’s word, believing He is truthful and living a life based on truth is an attribute of a disciple of Christ.

“The Bills”: An Interview with Wired Magazine

I just read an interesting article in the December issue of WiredThe cover story of this edition is about an interview with the “Bills”, that is, Gates and Clinton.  As you may be aware, these men are founders of massive philanthropic organizations.  Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton founded the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

The article (and interview) discusses some of Gate’s and Clinton’s ideas about how to better the future of the world.  The essence of their argument was this: if we want the world to improve, then we need to work together.  Globalism was inherent in nearly everything to the two tycoons said.

Of course, the benefits of globalism are debatable.  But there are bigger fish to fry at the moment.  Yes, I said it that way intentionally.  Globalism is a really big deal, literally (a really big problem in my book), but there are still bigger problems.  Let me explain.

Maybe the easiest way to get at it is to ask a question: what is good?  When Gates says “It was not ‘good’ for the world for the U.S. to generate 30 percent of the economic activity” what does he mean?  Or when Bill Clinton says things like “Congress needs to keep our future in ‘good’ shape” what does he mean?

And that’s the rub.  Who decides what the standard is?  Who decides the definition of good?  Who determines the yard stick by which we will understand “goodness”?  Take a guess.  I’ll give you three, and the first two don’t count (as my dad used to say).  Well, the billionaire philanthropists get to decide.  Which means the top 1% of the world are calling the shots about the future of the other 99%.  And you know what?  You don’t get to be a billionaire by being philanthropic; you become a billionaire by being a business man.  And I’m not convinced that “the Bill’s” philanthropy is not just more business in disguise.[1]

But there’s another big problem.  Technology is NOT going to fix the world.  I hate to break it to you, but it’s not.  Over and over again in the interview this assumption is made.  Technology is the key to our global threats.  Technology only makes human wickedness more sophisticated and appalling.

Technology isn’t “good” or “bad” in itself, what makes technology good or bad is how its employed, and that’s something that technology has very little to do with.  In other words technology is only as “good” as its inventors and consumers.

The world’s solutions do not lie with billionaire businessmen concocting new technological ideas and scheming about how their products can shove their foot in the third-world door first.

Jesus said that “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man… For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed… all these evil things” (Mark 7:15, 21, 23).

A man’s heart will determine whether or not he uses his baseball bat to play baseball or beat his wife.

The future of the world hinges infinitely more on the condition of man’s heart than it does the gizmo’s he holds in his hands.

And neither of the Bill’s said anything about that.

 


[1] In the article Clinton admits that his foundation is really a glorified “launching pad” for “projects benefiting the global good.”  It’s hard to imagine that the “global good” is not directly tied to the Clinton family’s financial portfolio.  Clinton gives a couple of examples of how his foundation facilitates business in the article.  I’m amazed at how his political side still comes out in all of this, conveying and packaging controversial ideas in a way that makes them publicly appealing.  Speaking of Google’s idea to use balloons that provide internet connectivity to the rest of the world where there is none, Clinton says “Connectivity can be incredibly empowering to the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”  But he then goes on to give examples in which he arranged deals where the “the six big banks” and the “biggest cell phone company” where involved in solving problems in South Asia.  Who benefits more here is highly debatable: the big banks and corporations, or those on the “bottom of the economic pyramid.”