Elisha is the apprentice of the prophet Elijah and in 2 Kings Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha alone to carry the mantle of prophetic leadership. The young Elisha picks up the mantle of Elijah and touches the river. The waters part and Elisha walks across the dry land.
Soon a group of people see Elisha and bow down to him out of respect. Even as they respected the office that Elisha now holds, they might have wondered what happened to Elijah? Did something wonderful or nefarious happen to him at the hands of Elisha? The group asks if they can search for the body of Elijah. Elisha says to not do this, because they will not find the body; which, if you are a conspiracy theorist, sounds suspicious. However, the group still sends 50 men to search for 3 days only to return and tell Elisha that they did not find the body of Elijah. Elisha says, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?”
Elisha may have felt at this point a sense of frustration. He was shown signs of respect when the group bowed, but they questioned his decision to not search for Elijah. Elisha’s legitimacy as a leader is called into question.
Just after, Elisha walks to a town and discovers the water is bad killing the land and causing miscarriages. Elisha heals the water with some salt. Like Moses making the bitter water sweet, Elisha goes one step farther and heals the water and the town rejoices. As he leaves the town a crowd gathers to mock Elisha. He is called “baldy” which is only obvious if Elisha was not wearing the mantle of Elijah over his head. If he wore the mantle then would the crowd have made fun of him? Once again, Elisha’s legitimacy as the leader is called into question.
In response to this claim, Elisha curses the crowd and two she-bears maul 42 people.
Two sets of stories with complementary suggestions about how Elisha struggled being seen as the legitimate leader. In one case Elisha suggested that no one trusts him and in the other Elisha lashes out to his enemies.
When Elisha struggles with legitimacy, people get hurt. In this case, young people die.
There was another who ascended to heaven and when his followers came to share this good news, they were considered drunk. When the disciple preached that Pentecost Sunday they, like Elisha, had their legitimacy questioned. They did not call forth She-bears.
When the legitimacy of the leader is called into question some leaders lash out, curse enemies and call forth destruction. They look sort of like they early days of Elisha. Christianity requires a different response. Notice that Christians are not called “Elishans.” Christians do not curse our enemies and wish/cause their destruction – even in the face of a legitimacy crisis.