"Why did God send bears to kill a group of 42 children for mocking Elisha?"

2 Kings 2:23-24 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.

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At first glance this seems to be an inordinate response to the boys' mean-spirited mockery. Did the children deserve to be killed in this fashion for mocking Elijah? Why did God choose bears for this task? Couldn't he simply strike them dead on his own and spare the boys the torture of being torn apart by bears? More importantly, did they deserve to be killed at all?

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Referenced Verses:
2 Kings 2:23, 2 Kings 2:24