In the book of 2 Kings, there is the story where Elijah, one of the great prophets in the Old Testament, gets taken up to heaven in chariots of fire. He leaves his legacy (and a “double-portion” of his spirit) with Elisha, another prophet who would continue to preach to a wayward Israel.
But when Elisha returns to the people of Israel after the departure of Elijah, there are some young boys who taunt him, and then something downright WEIRD happens. You can read it for yourself below:
He 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. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (2 Kings 2:23-25, ESV)
Now… that’s a very weird story. Small boys jeer at the prophet, the prophet curses them, and two bears come out of the woods and maul (but surprisingly don’t seem to kill) forty-two of the young boys.
That’s pretty simple to understand, BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Good question. This post will answer it, but boy is the answer weird.
The explanation is broken down into two parts, because – trust me – this rabbit hole goes DEEP.
The Biblical Precedent for the Attack of the Two Bears in 2 Kings 2
The first thing we should note about this story is WHERE it happens. It happens in Bethel.
This is the place that was previously called “Luz,” but Jacob in Genesis 28 has a dream and sees the Lord, and so he calls the place “Beth – El” or “House of El” or “House of God,” because Jacob saw the Lord there. As such, this place has supernatural divine credentials.
This is also a place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the time of the Judges:
The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.” (Judges 20:18)
We also know that Bethel was one of the three “capital” cities of Israel in the time of Samuel, who was the last “judge” of Israel, before the time of King Saul:
Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. (1 Samuel 7:15-16, ESV)
However, with all those credentials of prophets and priests, Bethel turned into a very wicked place due to the acts of King Rehoboam of Israel, who was the first king of this divided northern kingdom. He did it to solidify his power. He made golden idols for the people to worship because he did not want them going down to Jerusalem, and one of them was at Bethel:
Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:25-33)
As such, we should understand that Bethel is a place of idol worship specifically designed to keep Israel away from the dwelling place of the Lord in Jerusalem. Remember that, because the location of this bear attack is important.
The Importance of the Prophesy Against a Disobedient Israel
The second thing we should note is that this event happens during the time when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah in the south and Jehoram the son of Ahab was king of Israel in the north. That places this event round-about 870-860 BC.
But strangely enough, little children being torn up by wild animals was prophesied as a serious possibility for a disobedient Israel in the years between 1446-1406 by Moses.
Look what Moses says in Leviticus 26 regarding the coming blessing for obedience and the coming punishment for disobedience:
“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.
“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted. (Leviticus 26:14-22, ESV)
So, yes. The attack of the two bears was specifically prophesied by Moses before it happened.
But this would be a mistake to interpret the event as a random punishment on innocent young children because of some long-running grudge. Instead, it is better to consider it as an immediate retribution for a grave wrong the young boys are committing themselves.
It is important to note what happened prior to this interaction between Elisha and the young boys:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:9-12, ESV)
In other words, Elisha inherits the authority and spirit of the Lord from Elijah, but these men of Bethel did not want to listen to him. They decided they “will not listen” to the Lord. Many commentators also note that the phrase “go on up, you baldhead” has some threatening undertones. In other words, a prophet who does not like the idol worship in Israel has come to town, and the boys are offering Elisha a “free ticket” to meet his maker, just like his old mentor Elijah did.
And therefore, because of this sinful action by the boys of Bethel, the two bears come out and rip them up, JUST AS THEY HAD BEEN WARNED IN THE LAW OF MOSES, which unfortunately for them was the law they ignored to their peril.
The Importance of the Number 42
At this point, I’d also like to note that there is an overlooked detail in this story that is not noticed by the few people who notice this story at all. We should note a very important detail:
The number of boys who were mauled is forty-two.
While this may seem to be a random number, this is not at all a random number, because nothing in your Bible is random.
What is the significance of the number 42? Well, go look at your Bible to find out. Doing a simple search for anything that references 42, you will find the following curious pattern, with the key to the whole pattern at the end. This is the COMPLETE LIST of all times that the number 42 appears in the Bible:
- This is the number of cities given to the Levites which were not cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6).
- This is the number of youths that the two bears maul (2 Kings 2:24).
- This is the number of descendants of the wicked Ahab that Jehu kills (2 Kings 10:14).
- This is the number of months that the nations will trample the holy city (Revelation 11:2).
- This is the number of months the beast is authorized to utter blasphemous words (Revelation 13:5)
This seems like a completely random number until you realize that 14 + 14 + 14 = 42, which also means:
- This is the number of patriarchs, kings, and rulers of Israel and Judah which is described in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 2.
We should also note that the time-period of “42 months” has a relationship to the time-period of 1,260 days in the book of Revelation, which is mentioned in two places:
- This is the number of days that the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth and ashes (Revelation 11:3).
- This is the number of days that the woman (who was clothed in the sun and with the moon at her feet who bore the child who was to rule the nations ) had a place prepared for her by God (Revelation 12:6)
The reason 42 months and 1,260 days is related is that 1260 days / 30 = 42 months. In other words, this is a shorthand reference to the same amount of time.
And when it is recognized that “42” has a special significance to the number of leaders during the time of the Old Covenant, this brings a clear interpretive tool to all of these appearances of the number 42 (and the different manner of referencing 42) in the Bible:
- There are forty-two governments in Israel that are not places of “refuge,” but Jesus comes next and he is different.
- There are forty-two generations of Israelites who rejected the prophets and were judged for their wickedness, but Jesus does not judge the people of Israel for their wickedness.
- There are forty-two descendants of the wicked king Ahab who are destroyed by God’s judgment, but Jesus gathers the remnant who have not bowed a knee to Baal.
- There are forty-two periods of time that Satan and his evil trample the holy city, and during this same period of time, the prophets of God – greatly oppressed – prophesy to Israel from God. However, Jesus redeems Israel.
- There are forty-two periods of time that Satan utters blasphemous words against the Lord, and during this same period of time, God nourishes and offers a safe place to those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And the God of peace will soon crush Satan.
Do you see it? Every small detail in your Bible is telling a story, weaved inside a series of stories, which actually played out IN HISTORY, and is still going on now.
And along those lines, the number of children who were mauled by the two bears was not random. It was prophetically and providentially chosen to represent the entire old covenant period, even though only 19 of the 42 generations were in existence up to that point.
And if you want to know about those 42 generations, you can check out the resource I sell on the subject here, which explains how the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel in Matthew 1 actually matches up to the historical list of kings in Judah in the Bible. You can access it by clicking this link.
The Bible’s Approach of Signs in the Sky
Now I need to go on what seems to be a short tangent. We’re about to talk about astronomy and astrology. This might be confusing to you, because you thought this post was about bears, but I assure you that it is relevant. We need to talk about how the Bible approaches constellations and “omens” in the sky.
As readers of Genesis know, it is God who put the constellations in the sky, and there is a weird explanation of why the stars were placed there:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:14-15, ESV)
That’s right, “signs.” The Hebrew word also means “omens.” The Bible says the stars are in the sky for omens.
But as strange as that seems to our modern Christian ears, we should recognize that in ancient times, this was a non-controversial explanation for why there are constellations in the sky. Even pagan Greeks noted that it was “Zeus” who put the stars in the sky to give “signs to men” on earth.
Read it for yourself. This is what Aratus says in a long description of all the constellations in the sky:
From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars.Aratus, Phaenomena
The sharp-eyed reader will note that there is actually a quote in the Bible that references this passage. When addressing the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17, Paul quotes this Greek author to note that we are all descendants of the creator of heaven and earth who does not live in houses made by human hands.
So, with that being said, we can all acknowledge that the Bible and pagan sources agree that the stars involve “signs.”
HOWEVER, after the Lord comes to dwell with his people Israel, the instructions about what to do with these “signs” in the sky get updated. The Lord specifically commands his people NOT to look for signs in the sky, but the reason is quite strange:
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so. . . . And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:19-20, ESV)
What is strange is that the Lord tells the people of Israel not to look into the heavens and worship the stars because the Sun, Moon, and stars are “allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” But in contrast, the people of Israel are to be different.
In other words, God is speaking to them directly to tell them exactly what they need to know. And that is why he says this:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, ESV)
In other words, the people of Israel are not to look into the sky because the Lord God is going to speak to them directly. And when he speaks to them directly, they will be able to do what he tells them to do, because his instructions will not be far or difficult to understand. They will be “very near you; in your mouth and in your heart.”
But this also means something very strange about the Bible’s view of “signs” in the sky. It is not true that they are “fake.” The scandal of looking to the stars for signs is NOT that looking to the stars for signs is nonsensical. Instead, it is insulting for the nation of Israel to look at and follow and worship the stars when the creator of the stars has spoken directly to them.
You get it? That’s the shorthand of how the Old Testament views the practice of astrology. But now it’s time to move on, because believe it or not, there is a sign in the sky that is quite relevant to this incident with the two bears.
The Significance of the Two “She Bears”
Something that was mentioned in the text but which I have not discussed so far is that the two bears that maul the 42 young boys are “she-bears.” We should also note that there are two of them.
And since we just got done talking about the stars, you might be able to predict that I will now make reference to the two “bear” constellations in the sky: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, which are the Latin terms for “Big Bear” and “Little Bear.” Today, we typically call them the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. But in fact, they are BEARS.
And believe it or not, these constellations are actually mentioned in the Bible. When speaking about God, Job describes him in the following way, making mention of Ursa Major:
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
(Job 9:8-8, ESV)
And when the Lord speaks later in the book, he makes mention of both Ursa Major and Ursa Minor:
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
(Job 38:31-33, ESV)
And so there are two bears in the sky and two bears in the story of Elisha and the 42 young boys mauled by the bears. Cool, but that could also just be a coincidence.
However, if you read about these two specific bear constellations in the ancient sources, you will find an additional “strange coincidence,” which is the following:
URSA MAJOR AND URSA MINOR ARE FEMALE BEARS
That’s right. They are “she-bears.” Look at what Aratus says:
On either side the Axis ends in two Poles, but thereof the one is not seen, whereas the other faces us in the north high above the ocean. Encompassing it two Bears [Ursa Major and Minor] wheel together – wherefore they are also called the Wains. Now they ever hold their heads each toward the flank of the other, and are borne along always shoulder-wise, turned alternate on their shoulders. If, indeed, the tale be true, from Crete they by the will of mighty Zeus entered up into heaven, for that when in olden days he played as a child in fragrant Dicton, near the hill of Ida, they set him in a cave and nurtured him for the space of a year, what time the Dictaean Curetes were deceiving Cronus. Now the one men call by name Cynosura and the other Helice. It is by Helice that the Achaeans on the sea divine which way to steer their ships, but in the other the Phoenicians put their trust when they cross the sea. But Helice, appearing large at earliest night, is bright and easy to mark; but the other is small, yet better for sailors: for in a smaller orbit wheel all her stars. By her guidance, then, the men of Sidon steer the straightest course.Aratus, Phaenomena
And believe it or not, but the Bible actually agrees. In both Job 9:9 and Job 38:32, both times “the bear” appears, it uses the feminine form of the noun. Strange coincidence indeed!
But that’s not all.
The Importance of the Dragon Among the Bears
Another thing that you will notice if you read the Bible is that many individual nations in the Old Testament have individual gods that rule over them. But there is a spiritual power, a “mighty one of the nations” who is over all of these individual gods which are over individual nations.
In the Old Testament, this spiritual power is often called “Baal,” which means “lord” or “boss.” In the New Testament, that spiritual power is called the “god of this world” or the “prince of the power of the air.” But you probably know him by the title that the Bible most often uses to speak of him:
And as I have written about before (see here, where I wrote about it earlier), one thing we know about Satan is that he is a dragon:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9, ESV)
And wouldn’t you know it, there is a DRAGON in the sky that is wrapped around the two she-bears in the sky. The name of that constellation is Draco.
And Aratus describes this dragon as coiling around the two she-bears. Look what he says:
Between them, as it were the branch of a river, circles in wondrous way the Dragon [Draco], winding infinite around and about; on either side of his coil are borne along the Bears, that shun evermore the blue sea. Now towards the one he stretches the end of his tail, but with the coil he intercepts the Lesser Bear. The tip of his tail ends by the head of Helice, but in the coil Cynosura has her head. For his coiled circles past her very head and comes near her feet, but again, turning back, runs upward. Not one lone star shines on his head, but on his brows are two stars lit, and two in his eyes, and one beneath is set upon the chin-point of the dread monster. Aslant is his head, and he seems most like as if he were nodding to the tip of the tail of Helice; his mouth and right temple straight confront the end of her tail. That head wheels near where the limits of setting and rising blend.Aratus, Phaenomena
That continued reference to “coils” is a symbol that the Dragon seems to have a bit of control over these bears. And the thing I am telling you is that this constellation “Draco” is a picture of Satan.
But you shouldn’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s just read the pagan description of the identity of this dragon in the sky. We won’t even read the Bible to identify the dragon. But look at this following description from Greek mythology. If you are familiar with your Bible, see if you RECOGNIZE anything familiar:
This is the large Serpent, the one that lies between the two Bears. They say that it is the one that guarded the golden apples and was killed by Heracles; it was placed among the constellations by Hera, who had appointed it to guard the apples in the land of the hesperides. For according to Pherecydes, when Hera married Zeus, the gods brought gifts for her, and Earth came with golden apples; on seeing them, Hera was filled with admiration, and asked that they should be planted in the garden of the gods, which lies near Atlas; and because the daughters of Atlas constantly stole the fruit, she stationed this enormous snake there as a guard.Hyginus, Astronomica
And if you do not know what the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides are or what they do in Greek mythology, I’ll go ahead and tell you: They give the one who eats it eternal life. And if that still doesn’t ring a bell, let me just quote Genesis for you:
He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24, ESV)
And wouldn’t you know it, Satan is even described in the book of Ezekiel as a “guardian cherub” who was “in the garden of God”:
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
(Ezekiel 28:14-16, ESV)
And yes, the Bible even describes Satan as a dragon (Leviathan) who fled from the heavens, which God will eventually punish on the last day:
In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 27:1, ESV)
So, let me make this clear. The constellation of Draco is a depiction OF SATAN HIMSELF in the sky. And Satan is coiled (signaling “control”) around the two she-bears in the sky. And it just so happens that two similar she-bears mauled the 42 youths who represent the entire Old Covenant period.
This is getting to be a really complicated metaphor, but we can explain more.
The Symbolism of Gentile Nations and Unclean Animals
You can get an idea of what is going on in this picture when you realize that the scriptures often use animalistic metaphors (especially of “unclean” animals like ostriches, jackals, camels, dogs, etc.) to describe gentile nations. For example, here is one place where Jeremiah notes the coming destruction of Jerusalem by gentile nations:
A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!—
a great commotion out of the north country
to make the cities of Judah a desolation,
a lair of jackals.
This is also why Jesus refers to the Syrophoenician woman (i.e., a gentile woman) as a “dog”:
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:25-26).
And yes, as Leviticus 11 explains, bears are unclean, because bears do not part the hoof and do not chew the cud.
And this connection of gentile nations being equated with unclean animals is what is going on in the New Testament when Peter sees the vision of the large sheet of every kind of animal descending from heaven:
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
(Acts 10:9-16, ESV)
And so putting this all together, we have a pretty clear picture of this bear attack, reflected in the night sky:
The gentile nations (symbolized by the bears) which are controlled and influenced by Satan (depicted as the dragon in the sky that is coiled around the bears) are able to severely “maul” (but not kill) the people of Israel (symbolized through the number 42, which is the number of generations between Abraham and Jesus Christ) in the Old Covenant, because they rejected the Lord God, his prophets, and his commandments.
And wouldn’t you know it, in the history of the nations of Israel and Judah, two mighty gentile nations – Assyria and Babylon – are the tools that God uses to punish Israel and Judah for their idolatry.
While God commanded his people Israel not to look at the stars for omens, but instead to listen to him, unfortunately his people were not listening to him. Therefore, he used a prophet to invoke a picture in the stars to warn his disobedient people THROUGH THE STARS THAT HE TOLD THEM NOT TO SEEK OUT that punishment from the gentile nations was coming because of their disobedience.
THAT is what is going on in the attack of the two bears, because NOTHING in your Bible is “random” or accidental.
But that’s not all.
The Heavenly Prophetic Constellation for Jesus Christ
Things keep getting crazy, and boy did I tell you that the metaphor is deep. That’s because there is ANOTHER sign in the sky that reflects what happens in scripture.
But first, we need to go back. Remember the last section which explained how the scriptures show gentile nations symbolized as unclean animals? Well, there is a prophesy that these unclean animals will no longer be “unclean.” It comes in the book of Isaiah. Look at what the Lord God says:
Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.
(Isaiah 43:16-21, ESV)
In this prophesy, the Lord is saying (using the image of jackals and ostriches, which are unclean animals) that the gentiles will come and honor him. He also seems to indicate that it will happen after some sort of battle, because the Lord God references the destruction of “chariot and hors, army and warrior.”
As Christians know, the Gentiles were given access to the Lord God by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy of the Lord God described all the way back in Genesis 3:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:14-15, ESV)
And what I want you to know is that this actually relates to the picture we have been talking about with Draco being wrapped around the two bears.
That’s because there is another constellation in the sky near the two bears and a dragon. However, this additional constellation is also wrapped up in an unsolved ancient mystery about who, exactly, the person is.
If you look at this constellation in a modern star-map, the constellation will be labeled “Hercules,” but this is not exactly an accurate ancient description.
As the commentators on the ancient writers note, our “standard” constellation names were not so fixed in ancient times:
The figures represented either persons, or creatures, or else things of varied nature, ranging from an arrow to a ship or river. Almost all were given names that assigned them to general categories, as opposed to proper names, and by and large, these constellations did not inherently have any closer connection with the world of myth than the modern ones created since the Renaissance. Our Hercules was know as yet merely as the Kneeler, and our Pegasus merely as the Horse. Another constellation whose name was rendered more definite as a result of later myth-making is the Swan, which was originally just the Bird.Constellation Myths: With Aratus’s Phaenomena. (Oxford Classics) Translated by Robin Hard (2015).
The identification of “Hercules” comes from the ancient mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes. Eratosthenes believes that Hercules killed the dragon guarding the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides. But the most common explanation of how Hercules obtained those applies is that he tricked Atlas into getting them on Hercules’s behalf. You can read about it in here in Apollodorus’ Library, in Book 2.
In large part because of this a-typical mythology of the astronomer Eratosthenes, the constellation in the sky is now called Hercules, even though this is not its original identification.
The original opinion among ancient about the identity of this figure as “the kneeler” is far more remarkable, because they acknowledge that they do not know WHO the figure is, only WHAT he happens to be doing. And it is the description that is amazing.
The following description given by Aratus, the same Aratus that Paul quoted in Acts 17. I’ll provide two different translated versions of the same text, because there are important details in each. The first is the 2015 translation by Robin Hard and the second is the 1921 translation by A.W. Mair. It reads:
Nearby there rotates a figure resembling a man engaged in toil. No one can say for sure who this is, or on what task he is bent, but people just call him the Kneeler. He seems to be sinking to his knees under the burden of some effort, and from his two shoulders his arms are raised up, stretching out in opposite directions at full length; and he has the tip of his right foot set directly above the middle of the encoiled Dragon’s head.
Right there in its orbit wheels a Phantom form, like to a man that strives at a task. That sign no man knows how to read clearly, nor what task he is bent, but men simply call him On His Knees [Engonasin]. Now that Phantom, that toils on his knees, seems to sit on bended knee, and from both his shoulders his hands are upraised and stretch, one this way, one that, a fathom’s length. Over the middle of the head of the crooked Dragon, he has the tip of his right foot.Aratus, Phaenomena
If you don’t understand the significance of this ancient description, I will make it quite plain. Aratus is saying that the “Hercules” constellation isn’t Hercules. Instead, it is a figure that looks like a man, but no one knows his identity. He is engaged in some struggle, but no one knows what the struggle is. In this mysterious struggle, the man’s arms are extended wide in some unknown task, and his foot is on the head of the dragon that guards the way to the tree that gives eternal life.
Did you catch that?
HIS ARMS ARE EXTENDED AT FULL LENGTH IN SOME UNKNOWN TASK
HE SEEMS TO BE SINKING UNDER THE WEIGHT OF SOME GREAT STRUGGLE
HIS FOOT IS ON THE HEAD OF THE DRAGON
HIS FOOT IS ON THE HEAD OF THE DRAGON
HIS FOOT IS ON THE HEAD OF THE DRAGON
HIS FOOT IS ON THE HEAD OF THE DRAGON
So let me be clear: This is a constellation that is in the shape of Jesus Christ when he was on the cross.
Genesis 1 states that God placed the stars in the sky “for signs” and for seasons. The ancients never claimed to have made up the constellations in the sky. Instead, they merely claim to repeat what the gods told them were in the sky. Instead, the constellations seem to be universally accepted as extremely important pictures chosen by the gods for significant persons or things.
And in that light, we encounter a very strange set of facts:
- There is a constellation in the sky whose identity is unknown, but whose description sounds like Jesus Christ, nailed to the cross.
- Not only does this figure appear to be described as Jesus Christ nailed to a cross, he also appears to be crushing the head of the dragon who guards the way to the tree of life.
- Not only does he crush the head of the dragon who guards the way to the tree of life, he also frees the two she-bears in the sky who have that same dragon coiled around them.
- And as a result of this action, the “wild beasts” or the “gentile nations” which are symbolized by those two she-bears will come and worship the Lord God, who will kill the “twisting serpent” and slay “the dragon” that was cast down to earth.
That is what is going on both in the scriptures and in the stars.
I bet you didn’t see that coming from a story about two bears attacking forty-two youths in Israel in the book of 2 Kings.
So, that’s the end of my explanation of the story where Elisha sends the two bears attack the 42 youths.
I don’t know how to wrap this up in a nice bow, but I do want you to recognize that the world you live in is FAR stranger than you probably think, and that Bible of yours is the WEIRDEST book you will ever read in the best way possible.
2 Comments Add yours
Very interesting view on the story with the two bears. It makes some sense out of a quite difficult story. I would however, be surprised if some of the boys had survived. Other translations state “ripped to pieces”.
Regarding the explanation on ‘Engonasin’ or the Kneeler, it would be helpful if you could add a picture of that constellation. Was the Kneeler different from Hercules? Aratus describes both arms being stretched. Yet the Hercules constellation has its arms flexed. Also Hercules is half kneeled, with one knee up and one knee on the ground. I cannot see how this could resemble the crucified Jesus on your picture.