Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
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 2:19-25.
This is a favorite story for those who like to show the inhumanity of the God of the Bible. Children are killed by bears for teasing the prophet. A bit harsh, no?
For one thing, the word translated as children is not the same one used for little children. It fits children up to adolescents. So, they were probably middle schoolers, which instantly drops my sympathy by quite a few points. Kids that age are at their meanest and it can be a real turning point for them. Also, the sins of children really do matter. They are the fruit of real sinners who are separated from God and in need of salvation. But our permissive, youth-catering culture refuses to see this.
Second, the bears tore them. It does not say that they killed them. The bears are instruments of correction, leaving them scars that remind them that they mocked the man of God who just healed the waters of their town. It is likely they never forgot this experience.
Sin is really bad. It’s consequences are truly terrifying. It would be good to learn this from the Bible instead of from experience. Instead, people end up in prison, at rehab, or with some disease that is the consequence of their sin. And we only treat the symptom, treating them like victims, allowing them to become hardened in their sin, and call it compassion.