Friday, December 10, 2004

More Puzzlements

I’ve been in a state of puzzlement since yesterday. This morning on the way to Wichita a couple of Bible stories came to mind. The first is the story of Elisha, some boys who were taunting him, and some bears that, on command, mauled the boys:

Elisha Is Jeered

“23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD . Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.”

It’s quite a story, one that’s hard to interpret. It all seems so gory to me and it seems that the great prophet was a bit thin skinned, to put it mildly. I can’t think of myself responding that way if neighborhood kids made fun of me because of my receding hairline. The best I can do is to see a lesson coming out of the story. Power has both positive and negative poles.

I think that’s a good lesson for the Christian community today, when power seems to be in vogue.

Does anybody else have another way of looking at this?

The second puzzlement is the account of the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Phillistines to the children of Israel. The Phillistines had captured the ark from the children of Israel and taken it to Ashdod, one of their principal cities. What follows from that point is a puzzlement to me:

“6But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
7And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.
8They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
9And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.
10Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.
11So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.
12And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.”

I’ve heard scholars interpret the affliction various ways. The most common interpretation is that the entire city was stricken with tumors of some sort. Well, the King James English calls them emerods. That seems a bit too delicate to me, especially when the words used over and over (tchor – pronounced tekh-ore’ or ‘ophel – pronounced o-fel) meaning a “boil or ulcer (from the inflammation), especially a tumor in the anus or pudenda (the piles) or simply a “tumour or hemorrhoid).”

The way I read it is that the Phillistine community was stricken with hemorrhoids because they absconded with the ark of the covenant. Very indelicate, wouldn't you say? It’s a puzzlement to me. About the only sense I can make of it is that it’s a way of saying that if you try to handle the presence of God in your own power your effort will wind up being one big pain in the butt. There was only one thing that was going to fix the situation, and it wasn’t Preparation H. The Phillistines got smart and took the ark back to the children of Israel. They hitched it to a wagon and sent it on its way.

Does anybody have another take on this?

Well, it’s Friday, dear reader. This is Nancy’s last day of work and I think I’ll take her out to celebrate her new found freedom.

There are many more puzzlements, but they’ll have to wait.

Enjoy your weekend!


biggaysam said...

It's even worse in the King James version. It states that they were children. What you have to get back to is the original Hebrew. It states that they were "youths." The Hebrew word is naar, a generic term which can encompass anyone from an infant to a mature man - the context being the deciding factor. Joseph was called a naar when he was thirty years old (cf. Genesis 41:12,40,46). Joshua was a naar when he was forty-five to fifty years of age (Exodus 33:11; Joshua 24:29).

Taken from:

If you read on there is some more very interesting information that clears up any misconceptions using the original Hebrew.

The words in Hebrew that translated to jeering is an indication that is was more than just verbal abuse.

Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

I read somewhere that 'emerods' may have referred to the swellings (buboes) of bubonic plague.

Jen said...

Good questions! By answering these, it should help me with my studying for my Old Testament final thats comming up...yikes!

Here is what I have learned: For the 2 Kings 2:23-25 these two stories are there to prove that Elisha is the prophetic successor of Elijah. The Elisha cycle is mostly concerned with miricles. There are 10 "prophetic miricals" found in the Elisha cycle, some with paralells of Elijah, but the main point is to show that 1)Elisha was Elijah's successor and 2) although there are similarities, Elisha was a differant prophet than Elijah (some would claim otherwise because of the paralelles and the fact that no one is sure if Elijah died...more of like a "transfiguration").

For Sammuel 5:6-12 you should actually read the whole story of the Ark which is Sammuel 4:1-7:17 to get the whole picture. The Philistines stole the ark from the Israelites, YHWH's chosen people. When they did this they placed it in the temple of there god Dagon. Now, since YHWH is the "one and only G-d" he proves to be more powerful than Dagon and topples the statue of Dagon. After this the ark gets moved around from city to city, wreaking havoc because it does not belong to the Philistines, and even yes as someone else commented there are scholars who believe that there was the beubonic plague involved. After this the Philistines return the Ark back to the Israelites and all is well again. This story to me is basically G-d saying "you best not mess with me."

Hope this helps!

Peter said...

Re. the Elisha story:

1. The "kids" were definitely not children, but rather young men from twelve to thirty years old. The same word used for 'youth' in this passage was also used for Isaac in Genesis 22, when he was in his early 20's, and for Joseph in Genesis 37 when he was about 17. It also describes soldiers at various points in the OT.
2. Elisha was the same age they were. He lived about 60 years after this incident, putting him at about 25 when it happened.
3. This was no harmless teasing - Elisha was confronted by a large group of Baal-worshiping youth. The insult against Elisha was aimed squarely at his God, putting in jeopardy his entire ministry if there was no response.
4. Did I mention a large group? If 42 youth were mauled, how many could there have been in all?!?
5. Elisha didn't call out the bears. He simply pronounced judgment on the crowd, and God decided what the response was.