The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 6
The Prophet Series: Elisha: part 6
Elisha leaves Jericho and travels to Bethel.
Elisha's ministry was unusually long, spanning more than half a century. He saw a generation grow old and a new one begin and he witnessed multiple kings. Our account of his life will continue for some time.
As we saw, his first act in Jericho was one of mercy. He cleansed the contaminated water. When next we see him he is met with ridicule. This bears some resemblance to our Lord's first miracle, for after Jesus turned water into wine, we soon find Him in Nazareth being ridiculed by His own neighbors who sought to toss Him off a cliff. But while the Lord quietly passed through the angry and vengeful crowd, Elisha is forced to establish himself as the prophet of Israel and so he brings down upon his accusers a fitting retribution.
If Elisha continued to only perform merciful acts for the nation when it was full of those who lust for idolatry, then his message would have never been taken seriously. It is sad, but true that all of us need to see the power of God in discipline if we are going to fully respect Him. Heb 12 tells us that there has never been one child of God without discipline and that if there were such a son, he would not bear any fruit.
Early on in his ministry, Elisha must vindicate his authority as given from God. The method used to judge the young men who ridiculed him could not have been more suited for spreading through every communication channel in Israel. How often do forty-two boys get torn up by bears?
2KI 2:23-25 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!" When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
The city of Bethel
Bethel should have been a most holy place. It was given its name by Jacob when he slept there on his way to Haran. His head lay on a stone and in a dream he beheld a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. He heard the voice of God from atop the ladder state, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth … and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
God had restated to Jacob the covenant made with Abraham. Jacob awoke and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of the Lord." Bethel means "house of the Lord." It remained a sacred place for Israel for many years. It was conquered by the tribe of Ephraim and was a place where the people would go to inquire of the Lord during the time of the Judges. However, when Jeroboam became king of the northern kingdom of Israel, he established in Bethel the golden calf worship as a substitute for the Temple in Jerusalem. The House of God had been turned into a den of iniquity by Jeroboam. While it seems that Jeroboam desired to portray the calves as a symbols for Jehovah, his motivation was clearly misplaced, for the law instructed that no images were to be made for worship, EXO 20:4. Because of this, Bethel (house of God) became referred to as Beth-aven (house of vanity).
HOS 10:5 The inhabitants of Samaria will fear
Beth-el or Beth-aven?
Jeroboam did not attempt to remove the worship of Jehovah from Israel; he only sought to divert it to a more palatable religion for the world. The world does not ask us to completely surrender religion. Atheists are few. The world opposes the genuine worship of God. There is no objection to a fitting religion that teaches some morals, lends a clergyman for a wedding, a baptism, or a funeral, and keeps itself on a shelf most of the time, only to be taken off and used on a Sunday for an hour or so. Religion is not to ruffle the conscience of a man or to challenge his life with complete obedience and allegiance to His Creator and Lord, but any religion that lends a level of tolerance to the way of the world and of Satan and does not demand that Christ be in all and through all, is the broad way that many take. The worship of God in the only way it can be, the whole of the man devoted to Him, in fear of Him, in awe of Him, in honor of Him, and obedient to Him, is the narrow way that leads to life. Shall our persons be Beth-el or Beth-aven?
The weapons of taunting and denial
Nothing is said by either Elijah or Elisha about the calf worship in Bethel, but its effect upon the population is evident in the young men or boys who openly and defiantly taunt Elisha and therefore taunt God. There could be no difficulty in recognizing Elijah's successor as he approached Bethel, which was surrounded by dense forest. We do not know for what reason these young men came outside of the city, but that is unimportant. When they saw Elisha they repeated the taunt, "God up, you bald head."
The young men did not know the object of his visit, nor were they personally acquainted with him. They recognized him as the prophet and they insulted him and challenged God. Baldness was regarded in the East as a reproach, and "you bald head," was an expression of contempt and ridicule. The challenge to "go up" must refer to what they had heard about Elijah, for the news of his ascension was well known by now. They are scoffing at the miracle they had heard of by challenging Elisha to go up to heaven as well. The taunt is similar in spirit to that addressed to the Lord, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." The young boys serve contempt to God's servant and they blaspheme God's work.
Such taunting of God's people is a weapon. There are two weapons that are used here, ridicule of God's servant and denial of God's truth. These weapons are wielded consistently. Every believer has weaknesses and sins and the kingdom of darkness will find them out. They will expose them to their own servants who will do their duty to their master, Satan, and ridicule the believer. This is designed to sting and embarrass, and since their aim is sometimes quite accurate, as the accusation may be true, it will illicit feelings of inadequacy in the believer. For this reason, God in His world tells us again and again who we are in Christ and that our sins and iniquities He no longer looks upon. And, the Lord tells us that when they taunt us, they are not actually taunting us, but Him since we are in Him. The fact that there is no condemnation in Christ and that they are hurling abuse at Him and not us, we can find the strength to easily cast such burdens upon Him.
MAT 5:10-12 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
He comforts us by revealing to us that they have been persecuting the saints for a very long time. "The saints of old handled it in Me, and so can you."
The second weapon, denial of God's truth, is not as personal as the first, but it is just as powerful if it is allowed to do its damage. All sorts of denials are wielded in the world against the work and power of God. There are many "proofs" to the fact that the power of God in miracles and deeds and wonders in the Bible are only fables, but when these "proofs" are examined, the smoke is waved away and no fire or substance is discovered. Denials of God's works have no foundation and when the believer continues to learn the word of God, the power of the word itself will be undeniable. The world can say all they want that the Bible is just another book written by man, but when the believer knows true love, joy, and peace in his heart, the denial becomes baseless. Elisha was an eye-witness to the ascension of Elijah. The denial of the lads is meaningless to his faith.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," wrote Alexander Pope. The fool is brave because he doesn't know any better. The bravery of these boys will last only until the first growl is heard. The fool has many things to say. Their speech is haphazard and ranges all over the map of unfitting topics.
EPH 5:3-4 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
Elisha looked straight at them and cursed them in the name of the Lord. There could be no doubt in their minds that the hungry bears were not a coincidence. This was clearly divine retribution. A man who does not fear God will meet with a terrible end, even if he dies of old age in his bed. We weep for every member of the human race who has not come to know the grace, mercy, and the power of the Lord.
We need not fear enemies of God, nor do we need to fight them. We actually go to God on their behalf since they will not go to Him. We pray for them what they should be praying for themselves. We don't hate our enemy. We love our enemy and thus disarm them from their ridicule and denial. The Lord will reward them for their works. We bring Jesus Christ to them.
2TI 4:14-18 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The "much harm" that Alexander did to Paul was not personal. It was the teaching of the word that he attacked. Sadly, no one stood with Paul when he was so attacked. So as not to be branded with this "fanatic" they deserted him. The apostle, God's great gift to the world, was cruelly alone. But he was not alone. The Lord was his strength and so is He to us all. Though all may desert us, He will never, no never forsake us. Through Paul, as through us, the love of God must continue to flow - "may it not be counted against them."
And so, judgment was executed in Bethel that day. We continue to follow Elisha. He cannot remain in Bethel. He must retire to the solitude of Mt. Carmel to collect and strengthen himself, no doubt in secret fellowship with God. Elisha did not wring his hands in revenge and relish the death of the 42 youngsters. Few know what it is like to love God and His people and be used as the instrument of God's vengeance, especially as the sin unto death. Elisha must come to grips with the ministry that God has given him - so must we all.
I'll see you on Mt. Carmel,