Seriously God: Your holy men have nothing better to do than to call down your divine wrath on a group of carefree, playground loving, their whole cute lives ahead of them infants?! But of course, we don’t think that’s what happened: we wrote the card that made a better story. Sorry.
This is not a story about a bunch of little kids making fun of a prophet because he is bald, the prophet getting pissed, and God sending a pair of pairs to maul them. That doesn’t even make sense. Why the hell would a group of little kids run up to Elisha and telling him to go away because he’s bald? Wouldn’t a prophet have compassion on a group of little kids simply acting like little kids? Wouldn’t the prophet curse the parents instead of the kids, just like you shoot evil looks at parents unable to control unruly kids in the supermarket aisle? Strap in.
Most people are used to the King James Version of this passage:
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
Some other translations identifying the ones who mocked the prophet Elisha as “boys” (NIV), “small boys” (ESV), and even “young lads” (NASB), but most are unaware that these translations made a specific decision on a difficult passage, because in the Hebrew there is no specific age attached to the identity of the mockers. We know their gender is male and that they are not elders in the community. Otherwise, we actually are not told how old they are.
The Hebrew says Elisha was approached by nə’arim qətannim. These are the words in contention. While qatan can be translated to mean “little,” it often has the nuance of something being “not important” compared to something else, to be “insignificant.” Similarly, na’ar is translated as “young man” or “servant” the vast majority of the times it appears in the Bible. Thus translations like the New King James Version uses “youths” for this passage and the Jubilee Bible presents both “young men” and “servants” in its translation.
We believe the International Standard Version (and a whole host of commentary writers and scholars who do their own translations, but what sort of a nerd reads those?) have the most appropriate translation of the passage:
Later, Elisha left there to go up to Bethel, and as he was traveling along the road, some insignificant young men came from the city and started mocking him.
This translation is fits the context of the passage.
When the mockers tell Elisha him to “go up” (’alah) they are alluding to when the prophet Elijah— Elisha’s mentor— went up (’alah) in the chariot of fire in vs. 11. These insignificant young men aren’t making fun of Elisha because he’s bald; they are challenging Elisha’s power as a prophet of the Most High God. At best their taunts are saying, “if you’re so great, ascend like Elijah did!” At worst, “we don’t want people who speak for God among us: ascend to heaven like Elijah did!” Either way their words are an assault on God, not Elisha’s baldness (but throwing the baldness in there was a dick move).
Think we’re full of more crap than usual? Read through all of chapter 2: When Elisha knows that Elijah will be leaving him, he asked that his divine power be passed on to him (vs.9-10) . After Elijah “goes up” (vs. 11-12)we are met with multiple stories showing the transfer of that power to Elisha (vs. 13-22). This is immediately followed by a direct challenge of this power by the group young men.
Let’s also not forget the numbers we do have: 42. This is not a small group: it’s a mob. Imagine being surrounded by 42 guys between the ages of 13 and 20 who are screaming in your face, taunting your bald head, and blaspheming against your God: how safe do you feel? (On the other hand, how safe would you feel surrounded by a group of 42 kindergarteners? Seriously, how many could you take in a fight?
We should also take into consideration that we do not have the content of Elisha’s curse: he may not have specifically asked for she-bears to maul them, he might have called for bunnies. The passage only says He cursed them in the name of the LORD (vs. 24), and since the insult was to God, God took care of them His way.
Perhaps the things we say about God and those who attempt to do God’s will matter.
Perhaps there are real and metaphoric bears waiting for us to run our damn mouths one too many times.
But what do we know: we made this game and you probably think we’re going to Hell.
“Only God can judge me”
Dear good christian friend,that’s a great FB quote, tweet, email signature, tattoo you have permanently inscribed into your body. But we have a question: Only God can judge you? Really? Where did you get that stupid, stupid, stupid idea from? Tupac?
[Please tell us it wasn’t Tupac. Not that there is anything wrong with Tupac, but if you are basing your concepts of epistemology and ultimate eschatology on an (admittedly dope) hip hop lyric, then we clearly don’t pray for you enough and this conversation is going to be more painful than we thought. And if it was Miley Cyrus, just stop breathing. Now.]
Mostly we hope you’re not one of those people who actually misquote Matthew 7 as justification for this position: “Don’t judge me man! Even Jesus said that. Matthew 7:1 says do not judge, so that you may not be judged. So don’t judge me bro: It’s in the Bible!” Let’s read the passage in context (as one always should), which means we need to start in chapter 6.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-17)
Notice who the word “hypocrite” keeps coming up? Now we arrive at our Card Talk passage:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-4)
Jesus doesn’t say “don’t judge.” He says don’t be a hypocrite, judging people by a different standard than what you hold yourself to. Don’t be like the people (the hypocrites) in the previous passages who also held a double standard of behavior.
Why do we even take the time to point this out (other than our general annoyance at people using the Bible for bad cultural cliches)? Because the most disturbing thing about the bastardization of this passage is that this phrase is usually used to excuse the exact type of behavior that needs to be judged: the times where a person who loves someone with a “don’t judge me bro!” mentality, should step in with a rolled up newspaper, swat them on the nose, and say, “No. Bad.”
Christianity is based on community: a group of people called to a common cause of loving God, each other, the world, and themselves. Community requires making judgments about the actions of members of the community, because those actions affect that one community member, but also the other members in the community. Judgment requires saying, “this is not okay” at times.
And judgment is not the same as condemnation, it’s love. Love requires judgment. And judgment, love, sometimes requires telling someone:
You really shouldn’t wear that in public. Or in private. Burn that. Right now.
For the love of everything holy, golf balls were not made for that purpose.
You said you were sticking to your diet this time. What’s the deal?
You’ve had way too much to drink: give me your keys.
You’re a drug addict and you need to get help.
You really need to reconcile with …
Your actions are hurting …
You were wrong.
Those things require judgment. Saying them requires love.
Perhaps you should worry if your repeated series of bad life decisions are what fuel your need to tell people to not judge you.
Perhaps you should worry about what happens when the people who love you, your community, stops judging you.
But what do we know: we made this game and you probably think we’re going to Hell.