2Ki 2:23 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!" 2Ki 2:24 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.
I know this isn’t a very “uplifting” passage but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering this passage that helps us understand and learn from it. First of all Bethel was the center of idolatry in Northern Israel and these kids were no doubt just parroting their parents. Also they weren’t just playing beside the road and poking fun at his bald head as he passed by. There was a mob of over 42 boys perhaps 10 to 12 years of age following him out of the city probably telling him to get lost. In other words they were rejecting his authority and thus the Word of God.
One reason I see this as being a result of their parents upbringing and therefore they are standing as representatives of the rest of the nation is from what we read in Lev. 26:21-22, "Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.” It is clear that Israel by its idolatry had broken covenant and were merely bearing the curses they had agreed to. This is far from just a case in which Elisha was having a bad day and these kids were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was more evidence of Israel’s apostasy and the Lord’s righteous judgment. Thus it becomes a warning to all who would reject the Lord.
But there is perhaps a more practical lesson for God’s people in this age of grace in which we tend to downplay God’s wrath and only think of God in terms of love and forgiveness. We must be on guard of the worldly influence that tells us that boys will be boys; let children be children; let them play now they will grow up soon enough. It seems God holds even young children accountable for how they perceive the Lord and submit to him. So we need to be careful to train them from the start to know and understand God as he is revealed in his word to us.
Don’t take me wrong. I love to watch my grandchildren playing and being cute and silly and all the things that children do. But more important than our being entertained by their cuteness is the matter of their eternal souls. There is a time for play but there is also a time for training and teaching and we need to be faithful to our children in teaching them that life is not just about having a good time, even as a child. Life is about serving the Lord and let this biblical example remind us that even our children are expected to honor him.
In Matt. 21:15-16 we have a little different thing going on than we saw in 2 Kings, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, Mat 21:16 and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, "'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?"
There were young children in the temple praising the Lord! If their children could do it, so should ours; even our young children as Jesus indicates these were young. It seems that this was one of the things that the Pharisees didn’t like. In 2 Kings the parents evidently had no problem with them belittling God’s prophet and here the Pharisees were offended at these children offering up praise to the Lord. But Jesus says that it is that it was ordained from the beginning that the Lord should be honored by our young children. Evidently there were some parents in Jesus’ day that were faithful to their children.
If you wait to get serious with your children about spiritual things until they are older you do two things. You do a disservice to your children by teaching them of first importance in their young lives is that life is about having fun or something other than serving the Lord. So you put their souls in jeopardy. But you also ignore one reason God gave you children; that while they are young they might offer praise to him as the older saints do. I don’t think the issue is that they have to be saved before they learn to praise God but that from the start they learn that this is what his creatures are to do.