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20 July 2017

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15

Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV
Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.

I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

It was written by King David ben Jesse, and you remember how he could’ve totally killed the insane King Saul ben Kish time and again? But he wouldn’t dare, ’cause Saul was the LORD’s anointed?

I should remind you the word which gets translated “anointed” is mešíakh/“Messiah”—one of the king’s titles, so I translated it appropriately. (I would hope you’re not using the title Messiah for anyone in your church leadership but Jesus.)

1 Samuel 24.4-7 KWL
4 David’s men told him, “Look, it’s the day the LORD told you of!—
‘Look, I put your enemy into your hand. Do whatever pleases your eye.’ ”
So David rose up and secretly cut the corner of Saul’s robe off.
5 Afterward, David’s heart struck him over this—that he cut off a corner of something of Saul.
6 He told his men, “By the LORD, I should never have done this thing to my master, the LORD’s Messiah;
to raise my hand to him, because he’s the LORD’s Messiah.”
7 David persuaded his men with such words and didn’t let them confront Saul.
Saul rose from the cave and walked to the road.

Yeah, it’s totally weird thinking of Saul as a Messiah, huh? Just goes to show you how much Jesus has redeemed that title.

David wouldn’t dare another time:

1 Samuel 26.8-9 KWL
8 Avišai told David, “God placed your enemy in your fist today! Now please—
I can smite him to the ground with a spear in one heartbeat. I needn’t repeat it.”
9 David told Avišai, “Don’t destroy him.
Who can raise their hand to the LORD’s Messiah and be clean?”

Get the point? Even though Saul was an absolute beast of a man towards the innocent David, he was still God’s anointed king. David had no business killing him—or even overthrowing him, or doing anything other than remaining in exile to await his king’s death. Beast or not, Saul was still Messiah, and David was never gonna depose God’s anointed king. (Now, Saul’s successor Ishbaal was another deal; David never recognized him as Messiah.)

But once we incorrectly apply the idea of an anointed king to Christian leaders, you might notice it gives ’em a free pass to be just as bad as Saul. ’Cause “touch not the LORD’s anointed.”

Now way before I ever get to the proper context, I should point out how absolutely insane it is to use Saul as an example. For Saul was insane.

The scriptures describe Saul as plagued by evil spirits. We’d nowadays call the guy demonized. The critters were only driven away when other anointed ministers worked on him, like David with his music. 1Sa 16.23 So “Touch not the LORD’s anointed, ’cause Saul,” is effectively saying, “Even if Pastor’s possessed by Satan itself, he’s anointed, so leave him be!” It’s probably the stupidest defense in Christendom.

Ministering to this madman nearly got David killed. More than once. Saul had a bad habit of throwing spears at people who were only trying to help. 1Sa 19.9-10 Saul’s craziness meant David was forced to run away and live with the Philistines—his nation’s mortal enemies—lest Saul finally and successfully kill him. 1Sa 27.1 It’d be like not only leaving your church, but joining the Satanists. In North Korea.

Are we so sure we wanna defend the anointed position of one’s leadership, by appealing to Saul’s demon-plagued example?

On to the context.

The verse comes from a song David wrote. Here’s the relevant bit. (Ignore the iambic hexameter; it’s just something I do with psalms.)

1 Chronicles 16.14-22, Psalm 105.7-15 KWL
14=7 He is the LORD, our God. His verdict covers earth.
15=8 His covenant, he bears in mind forevermore:
His constituted word, a thousand ages long,
16=9 set up with Abraham, with Isaac kept and swore.
17=10 With Jacob still it stood, a statute by this time,
to Israel an everlasting covenant
18=11 which says, “To you I give Canaan and all its land.
It’s the inherited estate for your descent.”
19=12 When they were few in number, like a little group,
while staying temporarily in promised land,
20=13 or wandering to nation after nation, or
from kingdom into yet another people’s hand,
21=14 our God permitted nobody to grind them down.
He judged against the kings who thought to interfere:
22=15 “Don’t lay a hand on my anointed citizens.
My prophets either: Don’t you harm them. Leave them here.

That’s right: The Hebrew word isn’t singular, but plural. It’s not “my Messiah,” but “my messiahs,” or “my anointed ones.” And it refers to all the people of Israel. Not their king. Not the leaders. The led.

This scripture isn’t warning people, “Don’t interfere with my leaders.” It’s precisely the opposite. It’s a warning to leaders.

True, not Israel’s leaders. It’s to the leaders of the nations where Israel temporarily stayed on the way to the land God promised ’em. Like the Amorite nations where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons lived, and interacted with, before they finally went to Egypt. Like the Hebrew nations—Midian, Moab, and Edom—which Israel had to travel through to get to Canaan, the land the LORD promised Abraham in his covenant. Like the Amorite nations in Canaan which Israel eventually conquered. Arguably we could throw Egypt in there, ’cause Egypt’s leaders did lay a hand on God’s anointed people, and y’notice they suffered 10 plagues in judgment.

But the fact Christian leaders snatch this verse, and claim it applies to them instead of their people—the fact they interpret it a full 180 degrees away from David’s intent—can only be described as devilish.

But wait. There’s more.

God doesn’t just tell the kings to leave his people be. In verse 22 (or 15), he orders them, “My prophets either.” Which prophets are these?

Christian leaders claim this proves “my anointed ones” refer to leaders, ’cause prophets were Israel’s leaders. Right? Like Moses, or the judges, or King David.

And that’d be true if this psalm was written in the historical context of the judges. But it wasn’t. It was written under the kings. Namely by David, the third king of Israel; compiled into Psalms, or quoted by the Chronicler, 600 years later. David’s predecessors, Saul and Ishbaal, were most definitely not prophets. Kings in Israel’s history who actually listened to God and could prophesy, were rare. The exception, not the rule.

So who are the prophets? Citizens. Men and women like Nathan, Ahijah, Shemaiah, Iddo, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Oded, Huldah, Jeremiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Sometimes priests, sometimes nobles, but mostly commoners—who heard God, and had to correct and condemn their unrighteous kings for their abusive behavior towards God’s chosen people.

Yep. When Christian leaders misbehave, and we privately take them aside to discuss the problem, and they tell us to bug off because “touch not the LORD’s anointed”: Again, it’s 180 degrees from David’s intent.

They aren’t the LORD’s anointed. We are.

They aren’t God’s prophets. We are.

It’s not a struggle for power. Well, not meant to be.

To be fair, I’ve been in churches where wannabe prophets covet power. They try to worm their way into positions of authority by claiming God wants his churches run by an unbiblical fivefold ministry structure (which conveniently has a slot for prophets like them), rather than mature Christians under an epískopos/“supervisor,” i.e. a pastor or bishop. They figure they’re qualified because they have an “anointing”—whereas Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to choose leaders based on character, on fruit, and not on charisma.

In the United States in particular, there are a lot of Christian anarchists who really don’t want anybody to run the church, ’cause they don’t wanna be told what to do. Not even by Jesus. Although they’d never, ever admit this to anyone. Not even themselves. They just convince themselves Jesus thinks like them, and that gives ’em license to turn loose their inner brats. They might settle for democratically-elected leadership—it gives ’em a say in how their churches run, and it sounds fair, doesn’t it?—but really it’s because they feel they can manipulate the crowd better than the leadership.

So yeah: Understanding that God wants all his followers to prophesy, and that one of a prophet’s duties is to keep leadership on the right path, can be abused when the wrong people deem themselves prophets, overstep their duties, and try to fight or topple their leaders. But y’know, everything can be misapplied when you’re dealing with selfish people. It’s why character matters, remember?

So if you’re in a position of having to speak truth to power: First of all you’d better be of good character. Prophets who lack character suck as prophets. 1Co 13.1-3 Nobody’s gonna want to listen to such prophets because their impatience, gracelessness, and lack of love is gonna get in the way, and undermine God’s message. Those who listen to such prophets anyway: They usually lack character themselves, and shouldn’t be heeded either.

If you’ve got the character, you’ve usually got the sound judgment to decide whether the leadership’s errors are a mountain or a molehill. And whether to come to them with a dire warning, or a minor heads-up.

And if leaders have the character, they can handle constructive criticism. They’re not gonna (knowingly) bend the scriptures in order to evade their responsibilities to the people they serve. They’re not gonna act like cult leaders, or exhibit the sort of pride we ought never find in Christian leadership. Moses, when his own sister and brother challenged his leadership, stayed humble Nu 12.2-4 and left judgment in the LORD’s hands—and God decisively put his sibs in their place, because Moses knew his place, at God’s feet.

Not putting his own feet on the necks of his people. Nor suppressing his opponents, for how dare they question God’s anointed judge.

Abusive leaders abuse scripture.

Today’s out-of-context verse isn’t the only passage abusive Christian leaders misquote. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many pore. Abusing scripture to defend your authority, is the clearest sign you ought not have authority.

Proud leaders don’t care what this scripture actually means. Usually don’t care what any scripture means; they’re not trying to further God’s kingdom, but establish their own. In their hands, you’ll notice every scripture is about setting limits and boundaries and rules, and setting themselves up as the judge of all the earth. In their hands, the bible is refashioned as a sword which destroys.

Humble leaders take the time to understand their role, and ours. They wanna know what God expects of those who lead his people. They continually study what God expects of them. They look at the examples (and bad examples) of God’s better leaders, like Moses, David, Josiah, Nehemiah, and Jesus. They should know the proper context of today’s verse. And even if they don’t know it, they’d usually be the last sort of people to try to claim, “Don’t touch me; I’m anointed.” They’re striving to be humble.

So what can we do with proud leaders? Well, breaking their pride is the Holy Spirit’s job, Jm 4.6 not ours. All we can really do is be good prophets and remind ’em what God truly expects of them. Pray they repent. Try not to be jerks about it, nor try to seize power from them. (Although if they’re breaking the law, go right ahead and call the cops or FBI on ’em.)

Give ’em the benefit of the doubt, ’cause we need to stay optimistic and gracious. Maybe they’re only misinformed. But don’t be too surprised if they turn out to be straight-up evil. Don’t be surprised if they overreact to our “defiance” or “rebellion.” Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find yourself shopping for another church, because they start throwing spears at you (metaphorically, I hope!) like Saul did David.

Best-case scenario: The Holy Spirit uses us to get ’em to repent, and rethink their leadership style. Believe it or not, I’ve seen it happen. It’s fantastic. Wish it happened more often. Since it does, it’s always worth a shot. So pray it works.