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The third work of Elisha took the form of a lengthy trip in which we saw the fulfillment of the third sign. We were called to overcome the two bears in 2 Kings 2:23-25,
23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 25 He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
Elisha had just blessed the water of Jericho, which, as we have seen, prophesied the restoration of the nations through the blessing of Abraham. Immediately afterward, we see a great contrast when Elisha cursed the young men in the name of the Lord. The curse unleashed two bears, who attacked them and killed 42 of them.
The Numbers 41 and 42
When this incident occurred, the prophet was on his way to Bethel, which was one of the towns where Jeroboam had set up a golden calf for the Israelites to worship (1 Kings 12:28, 29). Hence, we see that the theme shifts from the nations to the church. Bethel means “house of God.” The third sign of Elisha was directed at the church.
Further, the number 42, which means “arrival,” is usually associated with the arrival of Christ. We see this in the 42 generations from Abraham to Christ in Matthew 1:17,
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
The total (3 x 14) is 42. However, if you actually count those that Matthew lists, we find only 41 names from Abraham to Jesus. The 41st generation is Jesus, the Head; the 42nd generation is the body of Christ. Hence, it takes two “generations” to complete this number, the last being the sons of God, whose number is not completed until the second coming of Christ.
Again, in the case of the church in the wilderness under Moses, we see from Numbers 33 that Israel camped in 41 different places prior to their Jordan crossing. The 42nd encampment was in the plains of Jericho under Joshua (Yeshua). There is a natural division and link between the numbers 41 and 42.
The number 41 means “separation.” The 41st time Noah’s name is mentioned in Scripture is found in Genesis 10:32, “out of these the nations were separated on the earth.” The 41st time that Abraham’s name appears is in Genesis 21:10, “Drive out this maid and her son.” In other words, it was time to separate the children of the flesh from the children of promise. The 41st time that Isaac's name appears in Scripture is in Genesis 26:18, Isaac had just dug wells, which embroiled him in a conflict (and separation) from the Philistines.
The 42nd time David’s name is mentioned is in 1 Samuel 17:54, which refers to Goliath’s head, which had been separated from his body and brought to Jerusalem. No doubt David buried it on the Mount of Olives, later called Golgotha, the “place of the skull” (John 19:17), for it was unlawful to bury anyone within the walls of the city.
So also, Israel’s Jordan crossing separated them from the wilderness (and its manna) and brought them into the Promised Land and their 42nd encampment. In those days Joshua the Ephraimite represented Yeshua in His second coming to claim the birthright of Joseph, whereas His first appearance was where He laid claim to the scepter of Judah.
History of Bethel’s Idolatry
Bethel was originally known as Luz (“almond tree”) in Genesis 28:19. Almonds are shaped like an eye, and the original shape of the Hebrew letter ayin looked like an eye. Because almond trees seemed to wake up before other trees in the Spring, almonds signified “awakening.” So when Jacob woke up after his revelatory dream at Luz, he renamed the place Bethel.
Many years later, he returned to Bethel, not as Jacob but as Israel (Genesis 35:2, 3, 4).
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
Bethel was the place of repentance from worshiping foreign gods and idols. Many years later, King Jeroboam of Israel reversed this and set up a golden calf in Bethel. By recreating this problem of idolatry, he established the pattern for the “house of God” for years to come. His actions prophesied of the corruption in Solomon’s “house of God” as well as the corruption in the church during the Age of Pentecost (33-1993 A.D.).
Presumably, Elisha was traveling to Bethel in 2 Kings 2:23 to deal prophetically with the idolatry in the house of God (“Bethel”). In my view, the spirits behind the golden calf saw him coming and stirred up some young men to divert his attention and hinder his work. The 42 “young lads” were influenced by this evil spirit—probably without their knowledge—and were cursed for it.
They “mocked” the prophet. The word is qalas, “to mock, scoff, ridicule.” When Ishmael “mocked” Isaac in Genesis 21:9, Paul interpreted this in Galatians 4:29 to mean that he “persecuted” Isaac. In other words, he harassed Isaac.
The 42 “young lads” also harassed Elisha, saying, “Go up, you baldhead.” This was probably a reference to the news of Elijah’s ascension, which they treated as an unbelievable rumor. To disbelieve the work of God is one thing, but to mock it is worse, for this might quickly turn into a case of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, was to attribute the work of God to Beelzebub (Mark 3:22, 29).
The Two Bears
The two bears represented the spirits behind the two golden calves in Bethel and Dan, which the 42 “young lads” worshiped as gods. The destructive nature of those gods was generally hidden from them until Elisha’s curse unleashed them. This exposed the true nature of those false gods, whose nature itself is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). In their blindness, men worship gods who do not love them but seek to steal their God-given authority and eventually use it to destroy mankind.
In 2009 I came to understand that the two bears in the story of Elisha manifested the spirits behind the two golden calves in Bethel and Dan, which had put Israel under the curse of God. The revelation was that my wife and I had to make a trip west to deal with those two bears.
We had already overthrown the golden calves in 2001 as part of the work of house of Joseph, but in 2009 we were to deal with them on an “Elisha” level. We first drove to Seattle, Washington to deal with the bear of “Bethel,” and then we drove south to Sacramento, California and across into Colorado to deal with the bear of “Dan.”
The city of Dan in the far north of Israel, was originally known as Laish, “lion” (Judges 18:29), but when the Danites conquered it, they renamed it “Dan.” The town was situated at the base of Mount Hermon. In the first century it was a Roman city called Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13). Jesus left most of His disciples in Caesarea Philippi when he took Peter, James, and John up Mount Hermon where He was transfigured (Matthew 17:2).
Caesarea Philippi was the site of the Grotto of Pan, which the Jews called “the gates of hell.”
Our mission trip in 2009 dealt with both “bears,” and we knew the second bear was the spirit of Pan. Hence, whereas the third sign of Elisha only hinted at the problem of the two golden calves, we were called to overthrow them both. Scripture does not tell us what Elisha did at Bethel, but he must have done something, because we had relatively little to do to supplement his work. Dealing with the second bear, Pan, took more time and effort, suggesting that Elisha had not been led to go to the city of Dan to deal with that golden calf.