In Second Kings chapter two Elijah and the prophets knew that he was to be taken away by the Lord. His assistant, Elisha, was with him. Elijah crossed the Jordan both literally and figuratively. He struck the water with his cloak and the Jordan River parted. Elijah and Elisha then crossed to the other side. There Elijah figuratively crossed the Jordan as he was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
Elisha literally and figuratively inherited the mantle, or covering, of Elijah. As Elijah was being taken up to Heaven, his cloak fell off. Elisha picked up the cloak and struck the water with it. Again, the Jordan River parted and Elisha crossed back over to the Jericho side. Elisha not only had the physical mantle of Elijah, but he had also received his office of prophet.
After Elisha left Jericho he went to Bethel. As he approached Bethel some youths came out of the town and jeered him, “Go up, thou baldhead.” At this, Elisha called down a curse upon them and two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
It is thought that the designation “baldhead” was a term of derision and disrespect. Some believe that word of Elijah’s ascent into Heaven had gotten around and these young men were taunting Elisha with “why don’t you go on up, too, Worthless.” Some commentators think that the opinion expressed by the young men reflected the opinion of the village of Bethel. After all, at that time Bethel was a cult center for the Northern Kingdom. These were golden calf worshipers and they had no respect for the Lord’s representative.
Dr. Ed Vallowe (Biblical Mathematics) points out that the number “42” is associated with the oppression and deliverance of Israel. He notes the Beast of the Revelation was given oppressive power over Israel for forty-two months (Revelation 13:5); that Jerusalem will be trodden down by the oppressive Gentiles for forty-two months (Revelation 11:2); and that Jesus (the Deliverer) has a genealogy of forty-two generations. (Matthew 1:17)
So it appears that, upon the call by Elisha, the Lord sent the two bears to maul the forty-two youths. This is a picture of the wages of those who would dishonor the Lord and attempt to destroy Israel. The Hebrew word for “bear” shows a strong, but slow, animal. The Lord’s action against those who dishonor Him or Israel will be slow in coming, but complete.
I am personally thankful for the Lord’s slowness to anger and for His patience with me. May His name be praised forever!