A Tale of Two Cities – (Part 2) Bethel
Character in a time of crisis ( Day 26)
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” (2 Kings 2:23 NIV)
The verses at the end of 2 Kings 2 are curious to many readers. Elijah is going up from the Jordan river area of Jericho to Bethel. While he is there he is accosted and jeered at by a group of youths. They mocked and derided him with the words “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead! (2 Kings 2:23 ESV). Elisha responds by calling down a curse upon them in the name of the Lord ( verse 24) and immediately two, she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two boys.
These verses are instructive in seeming to suggest that Elisha was follically challenged as many men are today. It is interpreted in jest by some as saying that one should be careful before teasing bald people! Unfortunately, that is not the teaching of this passage! It has also been criticised and disbelieved on the basis that Elisha overreacted harshly in calling a curse down on the boys.
A closer look at the text though does show us why this took place. This incident happened at Bethel, which in Hebrew means the House of God. It was Jacob who gave the place its name ( Genesis 28: 17-19)
‘He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:17 (NIV)
Bethel was a place of great promises and blessing to Jacob. Later on, though things changed. The House of God became a Place of Rebellion against God. During the time of the kings, after Solomon was dead (but before the time of Elijah & Elisha), the ten tribes of the North rebelled against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. Under the leadership of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. In a bid to stop his people travelling far south to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, Jeroboam erected two golden calves as idols, which the people of Israel worshipped. He set up one in Dan in the far North, and one was set up in Bethel. 1 Kings 12: 32 shows how he also offered sacrifices to the golden calves and had pagan priests serve there.
Elisha‘s reaction to this rebellious spirit might seem to us extreme. But his action, and the ensuing result were biblical. Elisha pronounces a Covenant curse . We find this in Leviticus 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.
A spirit of rebellion and idolatry had taken hold in the House of God. Sadly nothing much has changed; there is still much idolatry in the House of God. Much is made of man and his merits, or man and his methods. Much less is made of Christ & His Cross. So much of what takes place under the guise of worship is man worship or worship of self. As someone has said, ” The most popular form of church is Me-Church- where it is all about me!”
As someone has said, ” The most popular form of church is Me-Church- where it is all about me!”
I see the danger of this as a genuine threat to the church in the current crisis in which we find ourselves, where ” Me Church” is very much to the fore. We pick and choose how and when we worship. We pick and choose who we worship with! It is easy to forget the command of Hebrews 10: 24-25 in these current days.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24
What is this showing? Firstly I believe in our immediate context it shows how important church discipline is, and the importance of recognising this as one of the true marks of the Church of Christ. Secondly and more significantly it is showing I believe that we should be careful about giving anywhere undue respect or reverence because of reputation. Beth-el was the house of God, but it had become over time, due to sinful human influence, a place that opposed the work of God. Could it not be true that nowadays, churches that purport to be places of worship, and have the reputation of being famous Houses of God have actually become temples of Satan? The solemn fact is that what was true of Bethel can be true of anywhere regardless of reputation, name or status.