19 December 2006

42: It's not God's favorite number

(Although it is The Answer to The Ultimate Question Of Life, the Universe and Everything.)

One of my favorite Bible stories for children is the Story of Elisha and the bears.

He [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 up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (New Revised Version) 2 Kings 2:23-24

So much action packed into two short verses!

But what's really important here is the moral of the story. What is God trying to teach us here?

Well some things are obvious.

  1. Don't make fun of religious leaders (or God might kill you in a particularly gruesome way).

  2. Children shouldn't make fun of bald men.

  3. God doesn't much like the number 42.

Okay, maybe the third one isn't so obvious. But doesn't it seem strange to have 42 little boys running out of the city screaming "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" all at once? And then to have all 42 of them ripped apart by bears? Two or three, even a half dozen maybe, but not 42.

So maybe the number of boys was inflated a bit. But, still, why make it 42?

Because, you see, God really likes seven (that's why he has seven spirits) and he hates six (666 and all that). So since 7 is perfect and six is evil, 7 times 6 is perfectly evil.

So when the story of Elisha and the bears was made up (well, you didn't really believe it, did you?), 42 was selected for the number of boys. It showed how bad those boys must have been and how much they deserved being torn up by bears.

For other demonstrations of God's hatred of 42 see Judges 12:5-6; 2 Kings 10:14; Revelation 11:2, and 13:5.


Anonymous said...

A mathematical approach to the Bible- I like that!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. That's a damn good number study. Keep up the good work, my Christian friend!!!

Although what kind of proof do you have that the story was made up?

Unknown said...

There's plenty. But it would take books upon books explaining it, all you have to do is look.

Anonymous said...

Who cares whether or not it's made up? What's important is that the good lord saw fit to inspire someone to write it down so that we could learn valuable lessons from it today. Praise be.

Anonymous said...

This is one of PG Wodehouse's favorite Biblical stories. His characters often referred to it on occasions when they were rude to old,or bald, or old bald men.

Unknown said...

Why assume just 42 boys came out of the city? Yes, the text is clear that 42 boys (actually the word used in the earliest text we have means young men) got mauled. But it says "42 of the boys" indicating that just 42 of a larger group were injured. Earlier, verse 23 says that simply some boys came out of the city, leaving the number that actually came out to taunt Elisha up in the air, though it must have been at least 42. I'm also not sure it's appropriate to chalk these up as "kills" by God, once again looking to the meaning of the actual hebrew word used for "tore" or "mauled" or however it's translated in your version. Injured seriously, for sure, though.

I believe a critical reading of the text is highly important, and misunderstandings such as this can lead to a very skewed perception of biblical events and doctrine.

Ri said...

to the previous comment...

But Unless you know someone who speaks aramaic.. your pooched.

The bible has been tainted ever since King James kindly chose to rewrite it to his liking.

Also, I'm pretty sure god would refer to these types of "kills" as frags. This is all just a sick little game to him after all.

Bill Michtom said...

"So since 7 is perfect and six is evil, 7 times 6 is perfectly evil."

Why couldn't it be 6 times 7 and be evilly perfect?

R. R. Edwards said...

I doubt "42" has a significant meaning here. It is well known that the number "40" was a regional number used as a metaphor for too many to count. Today we would say "a million" - it rarely means a literal million.

It seems more reasonable to assume the author of passage is just a lame brained as the passage indicates. It is unlikely he could do math or think creatively.

As a result, I would argue "42" is his way of saying "infinity + 1".

Anonymous said...

[Sorry Steve, I didn't realize I had sent this response as a response to the SAB until now]

The people of Jericho were no friends to prophets of Jehovah. On his way to Bethel it isn't disclosed how far it took to gather this possibly hostile group of children, or whether or not Elisha may have felt his safety was threatened, but it is safe to say that God knew these children were opposed to his purpose set before Elisha and God wasn't going to tolerate it any further than he did. (Proverbs 17:12)

Since Elisha was wearing the official robe of the prophet, as the children in the area may have been aware, their taunting may have been directed at Jehovah himself. The question is were the children saying "Go on up" meaning to Jericho or as in the way Elijah had been transported elsewhere on earth at 2 Kings 2:11? It is very likely the case that the children were challenging God and blaspheming him.

The number 42 here has no specific meaning or purpose, it just happens to be the number of children in the event. Some scholars think that in this case the number has some significance, but I am not inclined to think so. This is brought up in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5, where the holy city is trampled for 42 months. That is three and a half years, the same length of time of Jesus' ministry. The case of 2 Kings 10:14 reminds me of the case of the children and the bears, it just happened to be how many of the men were killed. You can't place great significance on any number that is repeated in the 66 books of the Bible based entirely upon that number having been repeated.

MARIOLANDblog said...


Since Elisha was wearing the official robe of the prophet, as the children in the area may have been aware, their taunting may have been directed at Jehovah himself."

So, God is bald?
That would explain a lot...