Peter J. Leithart
January 14, 2009
Category: Bible - OT - Kings
When the “young men” of Bethel mock Elisha, he calls out two bears that kill forty-two of them (2 Kings 2:24). Later in 2 Kings, Jehu slaughters forty-two relatives of Ahaziah of Judah during his purge of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:14). What’s up with that?
The young men of Bethel are leaders of idolatry, as our the forty-two relatives of Ahaziah. In both cases, you have Yahweh’s avengers (cf. 1 Kings 19) destroying 42 men, so the number links the work of Elisha with the work of Jehu.
In addition, the number 42 appears elsewhere in the Bible as the number of Levitical cities in addition to cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6), so there might be a Levitical reference. The forty-two young men of Bethel are anti-Levites. Plus, the number appears as a time-period of oppression and persecution (Revelation 11:2; 13:5) – 42 months is 3 and a half years, a broken seven. The forty-two might point to the fact that the shrine at Bethel will be cut off mid-stream, as will the house of Ahab and, by implication, the kingdom of Judah. Enemies of the church don’t even last a full “week” but are cut off mid-week, on the “third day.”
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