Question of the Week: Does the prohibition against “touching the Lord’s Anointed” mean that you can’t criticize or question those in church leadership?
Cult leaders and those who have something they want to avoid criticism about love to use this passage in order to present themselves above any form of correction. The ironic thing is that the two times this passage is applied in scripture, they were both said as the leaders of Israel were being judged for their unbiblical behavior. In order to avoid being deceived or manipulated by false teachers, the best thing we can do when we hear scripture being cited is to ask where, when, and under what circumstances that passage took place. Another good thing to get in the habit of doing is whenever you hear a claim about scripture giving a command, ask for an example of it being put into practice in that way. A Bible teacher that refuses to give you chapter and verse to support their claims shouldn’t have anyone under their teaching. Therefore, let’s go to chapter and verse to support our claims against this teaching lest we fail our own standard.
The statement “Do not touch the Lord’s Anointed” appears two times in scripture.
Saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm.”
1 Chronicles 16:22 (NKJV)
Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.
1 Samuel 24:4-7 (NKJV)
In both of these passages, the situation in no way involves verbal criticism of a leader or king’s handling of scripture. The first passage in 1 Chronicles 16:22 tells us exactly what was going on when this statement was brought up. It leaves no room for ambiguity as to who is being referred to as the Lord’s Anointed and what is meant by touching them. 1 Chronicles 16:1 plainly states that this psalm was written following King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the second time. Those familiar with the event in Jewish history would recall that the first attempt involved a very serious and dramatic judgment on God’s part towards those who improperly handled the Ark despite knowing the consequences of doing so. David himself was also corrected by God during this situation as recorded in 2 Samuel 6:1-15. No matter how you try to present this situation, the actual quote that came from David’s Psalm was historically following a time where he was directly corrected by God. Israel’s priesthood who put the Ark on an Ox cart rather than carrying it as Moses commanded them to were corrected by God. The man who touched the Ark knowing full well that wasn’t allowed was corrected by God. And the verse immediately before verse 22 states that God corrected kings. (Those in leadership) The kind of person who would use 1 Chronicles 16:22 to exempt leadership from correction is citing a passage where God was correcting those in leadership. This would suggest the person has either never read the passage they’re explaining the application of, or they know the context of the passage and are lying about it in order to avoid accountability.
The second passage follows a similar pattern shown in 1 Chronicles. It explains with a historical example of exactly what is meant by “touching” the Lord’s Anointed. David, who had been anointed King but not yet been given the crown, was being hunted down by King Saul for reasons he himself couldn’t clarify. He had murdered the priests of Israel and driven the rest into hiding. He had forced David from his family and home without reason. And he had now found Saul in a vulnerable position in the very cave David and those who followed him were hiding in. They encouraged him to physically touch Saul in such a way that would result in his death. The encouragement wasn’t to start criticizing Saul for attempting to murder David. It was a physical threat being answered with physical force. Even if you exclusively apply the term anointed to those in leadership, there isn’t room for the term to apply to verbal correction or to ask questions about their handling of scripture.
The question then remains how to correct those in leadership. Even if the passages cited don’t prohibit the act, any action should be informed by scripture. The answer is simple. If scripture should inform our criticism, it should also be the standard by which our teachings and behaviors are informed as well. If you are going to correct leadership it shouldn’t be because of personality issues, emotional slights, or negotiable side issues. Scripture is the metric by which a sound ministry is informed. If you bring an open Bible and consistently and graciously present the text alongside the area you are bringing attention to, then you’re following the Biblical model of criticism. Correction isn’t prohibited. Just make sure that if you’re going to, you do so in a way that you would welcome if you were on the receiving end.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
Galatians 6:1-2 (NKJV)
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