2 Kgs 2:21-25

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The Old Testament > 2 Kings > Chapter 2

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Questions Help with the Questions section[edit]

  • The story beginning in verse 23 seems awfully savage. Is this a story that should be understood literally (which would seem to depict a God who is mean at best), or should it be understood symbolically, perhaps to show us the spiritual consequences of challenging God's anointed?

Lexical notes[edit]

Verse 23[edit]

  • Little children: According to footnote a, "little children" is more aptly translated as "youths." Although still a graphic story if taken literally, the modern reader may be significantly less shocked understanding that the story refers to youths (perhaps delinquent teenagers?) rather than little children.
  • Baldy and prophetic succession: Fred Woods (see reference below) suggests that the reference to baldness here has more to do with prophetic succession than literal baldness. In Zech 13:4 and Matt 3:4 the hairy mantle of authority is referenced that Elijah had. This, coupled with various textual links to the story of Korah in Num 16:31-40, suggests that the youths in this episode are being punished for mocking (or at least questioning) Elisha's authority. The punishment of these children, then, may be viewed as a fulfillment of the warning given in Lev 26:21-22.


The story in verses 23-24 is not easy to explain. There is a good chance that we need more information or that, perhaps, we are missing some verses, so the best answer is probably "we don't really know what happened here."

However, we are not the only ones who find this passage difficult. One Jewish explanation of it is that these are young men who have been studying in an ancient school of the prophets but refuse to recognize Elisha's prophetic authority. What they say to him amounts to "Go away, you old man!" and, so, is a rejection of the priesthood. Another explanation is that these young men are mocking Elisha, daring him to be translated as Elijah had just been translated (2 Kgs 2:11). A third explanation, based on an assumed word-play in Hebrew, is that these were young men who were completely without religion and who mocked the prophet as the leader of Israel.

It is also interesting that the Talmud asserts that Elisha was later punished for using his authority in this way (Sanhedrin 46b, 47a).

Related links[edit]

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