The Nones Bible
“Boys, Bears, Bald Prophets and Biblical Ethics”
Many speak of “family values” and “biblical ethics” while ignoring (conveniently overlooking or “creatively interpreting”) some rather disturbing passages.
Like sticker-shock, the cost of some stories can be a little too high …
As a “Bible-believer” for many years, I not only read the book cover to cover but studied, memorized and preached the book as God’s Word. This one book was the highest authority for life, with everything I needed to know for living a “godly” and moral life. I wanted the whole world to be in the divine book club with me.
It was almost as if God had spoken every word necessary for the human race thousands of years ago and then took a vow of silence. IF God ever spoke again, He would simply quote Himself. There was nothing particularly new to say.
When I began to dig deeper into the scriptures with a critical and open mind, taking the book in its historical, literary, psychological context, uncomfortable things began to appear. Those who taught me the Bible, respected teachers I trusted, somehow overlooked passages and verses that were the most perplexing. When they did talk about troubling parts or contradictions in The Word, they sometimes offered less than satisfactory explanations or interpretations. Maybe they didn’t know any more than I did about these things? Take a guess.
I was asked recently to read something in the Second Book of Kings concerning the dramatic life of the prophet Elijah. You may remember the famous story of Elijah’s hiding on mount Horeb when the Lord “passed by” but isn’t in the wind, earthquake or fire. The prophet hears a voice in the silence instructing him to hike down and keep moving. He has a mission.
The first order of business for Elijah is to get a disciple and the one he finds plowing with oxen in a field is Elisha. Elisha cooks the oxen and follows his new master.
These stories may be familiar since they are favorites for preachers who like lessons of faith and miracles.
But I’ve never heard a preacher talk about the most shocking part of the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel: the prophet of the Lord personally executed 450 (possibly 850) non-Israelite prophets. So he proved his God was the “true god” and the others failed. He won. That could have been the end. He grabs a sword and cuts down every faith leader who challenged him.
Am I missing a “moral lesson”?
With that pleasant thought in mind, let’s skip ahead to a “miracle” story that—miraculously—I’ve never heard any teacher or preacher ever talk about let alone attempt to explain.
Let’s call it the “Holy Bear” story.
This little gem is found in Second Kings chapter 2 and comes just after Elijah catches his flaming chariot into the sky, dropping his cloak which is picked up by his disciple Elisha. The new prophet uses the magic mantle to part a stream just as Moses parted the Red Sea.
Listen for the divine word:
“Elisha 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 away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’
I consulted one respected bible commentary on this passage. No comment. The sound of sheer silence.
Allow me to speculate. A novice prophet appears holding the cloak of his hero who has literally gone up in a puff of smoke. He’s feeling pretty good, energized. Like a superhero, he has double the power of his mentor (he asked for that extra strength in the beginning of the chapter). He’s just performed some nice tricks— parting the waters of a stream and purifying a town’s water supply by pouring salt in a spring. His confidence is growing with these magical powers as he walks from town to town. You can imagine he was wearing Elijah’s mantle like a superhero cape, maybe pretending he could fly.
Then a group of boys ruins it all. They gather around him, taunting, making fun of him. “Unacceptable!,” he thinks, “I’m a Man of God! A prophet of the Lord of the Universe!” The mischievous kids don’t throw stones or water balloons or try to grab his power-cape. No, they throw an insult. They dare to make fun of his hair, or lack of it.
“Baldhead, baldhead!,” they laugh.
What does God’s prophet do? Does he turn to the name-callers and teach them a lesson about compassion and kindness? Does he preach a message of hospitality and respect for strangers? No. He curses them in the name of his God, bringing about his third miracle: two mother bears lumber from the forest and kill the boys—all forty-two little children torn to shreds.
Elijah kills hundreds of clergy; Elisha kills a bunch of name-calling kids.
The lesson of these stories? Maybe the Bible is not always the best source for ethics.