What Happened To The Children?


“In 2 Kings 2:23-25, what happened to the children that were attacked by the bears? Did they go to Heaven or Hell?”

That is a great question, and it is a question that demands a full answer. Below, I have tried to do two things: (1) to break down the four most important things to consider when it comes to this particular passage and (2) to answer your question.

2 Kings 2:23-25 says, “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. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.


This particular incident is found in the book of 2 Kings. That places the passage in the Old Testament portion of our Bible. Now, that is important to emphasize because there is a difference in where people went after they died prior to the Gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and after.

Let me try to explain what I mean by that. When you study the Old Testament Scriptures, you will find that those who lived during the Old Testament time-period, were never promised Heaven. They were looking forward to their Messiah (Jesus Christ) sitting on and ruling from the throne of King David in the city of Jerusalem.

Now that is important to distinguish because there is only one way to enter Heaven – perfection. Now, they fell short of that and so do we. That’s why Christ came and that’s why the Bible tells us that when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ we are placed in Christ. We don’t get to go to Heaven because of anything that we did or didn’t do; we get to go to Heaven because of what Jesus Christ did for us and through Jesus Christ Himself.

With that being said, where then did the people of the Old Testament go when they died? Well, they went to one of two places: HELL or PARADISE. The Bible tells us that both of these are located in the center of the earth and that they are separated by a large chasm that prevents one from going from Hell to Paradise or vice versa.

Hell is described in the Bible as an awful place of loneliness, restlessness, darkness, and torment that will never end until it is cast into the lake of fire which is described in the exact same way.

Jude 13 says, “…to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”
Matthew 8:12 says, "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
2 Peter 2:3-9 says, “…whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.”
2 Peter 3:3-7 says, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

While Hell is the temporary holding place of all who reject the Word of God and His salvation, paradise (which is also referred to as Abraham’s bosom), is the temporary holding place of all those who put their faith and trust in God prior to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Luke 23:43 says, "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Luke 16:22-23 says, "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”

So, what does that have to do with 2 Kings 2:23-25? Well, it simply establishes the fact that people who died during that time-frame either went to Hell or they went to Paradise.

2) The PLACE

I’m talking here about the actual location of the event that the passage is describing. Notice that this event takes place in “…Bethel…” The Bethel spoken of here was located in the northern kingdom of Israel. As a reminder, during the reign of King Rehoboam (the son of King Solomon and Grandson of King David), the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

  • The southern kingdom was ruled by the kings that can be traced back to King David and forward to King Jesus.
  • The northern kingdom, however, did not have a single right king or good king. As a matter of fact, they were known for one thing – there consistent progression further and further away from God and into the sin of idolatry.

The prophet Elisha, the student of Elijah, was called by God to be His prophet, His messenger, to the wicked and corrupt northern kingdom of Israel. Bethel was one of the two places that King Jeroboam had established as a center of false worship of two golden calves in the northern kingdom (the other being Dan). These two places became known as places of incorrect worship, of iniquity, of indecency and immorality, and of insolence and irreverence.

1 Kings 12:26-33 says "And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense."

When we come to 2 Kings chapter 2, the wickedness of this false worship had had a terrible impact on both the city and the inhabitants of Bethel. It is safe to say that while there may have been some true believers in the city of Bethel, the city itself was NOT known to be one where the people loved or lived for God.


The people in question here are the “…little children…” that came out of the city of Bethel. The people here are literally the product of the wrong worship and the wickedness of the culture around them. Let me remind you that you reap what you sow, you reap where you sow, and you reap more than you sow.

Galatians 6:7-8 says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."

Now, when it comes to the people in this passage, there are two key things that we need to consider: their AGE and their ATTITUDE/ACTIONS.

A) Their AGE

The Bible refers to these people as “…little children…” Now, immediately our mind labels these little children as small school-aged children (perhaps somewhere between the ages of 5 or 10), but that isn’t always the case in the Bible.

While the Hebrew word that is used for little here (qâṭân), can be used to describe the age of something, it is also used to describe the quality, quantity, or size of something. In the same way, the word used here for children (nah’-ar) mean’s “young man or woman”. While it can include those who are younger, it isn’t always used to describe a small child.

King Saul was described this way when, as a man who was head and shoulders above everyone else, he was chosen to be the first king of the nation of Israel.

David was also described this way when he was anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel.

While these words could indeed refer to younger children, in all probability the words are used here to describe young men (perhaps between the ages of 12 and 35).


We’re then told what these young men did – they came out of the city of Bethel, and they mocked the man of God saying, “Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.”

I think the first thing that needs to be highlighted is there lack of respect. It appears to me at least that Elisha was older than the people that made up this crowd. I can’t help but see an incredible lack of respect. That’s one of the consistent products of inappropriate worship and iniquity.

The second thing that we need to highlight is the fact that these young men knew exactly what they were saying. What I mean by that is that this was not a statement made out of ignorance; this was a statement of direct attack.

If we were to go back to verse 7, we would find that there were fifty sons of the prophets who were watching from a distance as the mantle was passed from Elijah (who was taken up in a whirlwind of fire riding horses) to Elisha. These were young men whom God had placed to serve as witnesses of Elisha’s call to ministry (to follow in the steps of Elijah as the man of God). However, here’s what I also know, while God has chosen and placed people for His work, the Devil has done the same thing.

Now, while I can’t prove this from the Bible, I can’t help but think that this group that came out from Bethel was made up of fifty young men as well (Verse 24 simply tells us that forty-two of the group were torn by the bear). The Devil likes to imitate what God is doing but for his own agenda. That’s why I think that there were fifty young men in this group.

The statement that these young men made to Elisha is no doubt a reference to what they had just witnessed to Elijah (he was taken to Heaven to be in the presence of His God). When they tell Elisha to “…go up….”, they were literally threatening to kill him – to send him to his Maker, so to speak. Their intention was to allow their attitude to be backed up by or accompanied with their action. Both of which were wrong and not pleasing to God.


So, what happened to these young men? Well, we’re told that three things took place.

A) Elisha turned to them, looked on them, and then cursed them

2 Kings 2:24 says, "And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD."

It’s important to point out here that Elisha did not curse at them. It is never right to do wrong, nor is it right to do things in the wrong way. The idea here is that Elisha turned these young men over to the Lord for proper discipline – not discipline by Elisha, but discipline by God.

B) God kept His promise to His people.

While these young men were attacking God’s plan, God did three things:

  • God proved His plan (calling Elisha to be His servant in the place of Elijah),
  • God protected His man by sending two bears to prevent them from carrying out the action that they had just threatened – taking Elisha’s life as had no doubt happened to other of God’s prophets,
  • God kept His promise to His people.

While the nation of Israel had divided up into two kingdoms, they were still His people and God was still going to keep His promises to them. Now, when we think of promises, we often think of something that is positive, but not all promises are positive. God had made it very clear what He would do if they refused to obey His will. We find that back in Leviticus chapter 26.

Leviticus 26:21-22 says, "And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate."

We’re simply told that two she bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of those young men, but what does that mean? Well, to be honest, all we can do is speculate.

Some or all of those young men may have died due to the bear attack. If they did, then they would have stepped out of this world into Hell because they had rejected the truth of God and the will of God, and it is clear that they knew exactly what they were doing. In other words, they had clearly gone beyond the age of accountability and understood the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

Isaiah 7:16 teaches us that there is an age of accountability. What is that? It is a moment in the life of a child when they "...know to refuse the evil, and choose the good."

Some or all of those young men may have lived. The reality is that while many do die from bear attacks, not all do. Some simply live to tell their tale. Hopefully, this tragic incident served as a wake-up call to some. What I mean by that is that they repented of their sin and turned back to God. If they did, then there is a possibility that when they died, they went to Paradise, to Abraham’s bosom. Sadly, that is not the testimony that we find from the northern kingdom of Israel. They continue to reject God’s Word and they continued to wander further away from God into the sin of idolatry,

C) God used His enemy to proclaim His plan and to remind them of His promises

While some of these young men may indeed have tragically died, there were many of them that made their way back into the city of Bethel, that city of idolatry…

  • To proclaim that while Elijah (the man of God) had been taken home to Heaven, God was still carrying out His plan through Elisha,
  • To remind the people of the promise of God that there are consequences for sin,
  • To serve as yet another call to repentance – for them to return to a right relationship with God.


A passage like this is a reminder that the Devil attempts to utilize the work of God to cause us to doubt the goodness of God. When we read this passage, we shouldn’t be quick to think “How could God do or allow this,” but rather, “What was God trying to accomplish through this.” While the former is focused on causing us to doubt the goodness of God in situations that we might not understand, the latter is focused on searching for the goodness of God in situations that we might not understand.

God is always good, sometimes we just have to search for it, but be aware that the Devil doesn’t what you to search for the goodness of God and he will do everything that he can to keep you from doing so.

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