What does the Bible mean when it says not to touch God’s anointed?

touch not God’s anointed
Question: "What does the Bible mean when it says not to touch God’s anointed?"

Answer:
The command to touch not God’s anointed is found in two places in Scripture: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15). These passages are sometimes used in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles to defend certain preachers from criticism. Preachers who promote themselves or their ministries as “anointed” warn their would-be critics, “Do not touch God’s anointed!” Of course, this helps to insulate them from scrutiny and allows them to spread falsehood and bad theology unrestrained.

Others take God’s command “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” to mean that Christians are promised protection from all bad things.

Both of the above interpretations of “Do not touch my anointed ones” ignore the context of the passages in question. The “anointed ones” in these passages are not modern-day Pentecostal preachers. And the Bible never promises that God’s prophets, anointed ones, children, or other faithful believers will never suffer harm from evil people. As Jesus explained to the Pharisees, “God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute’” (Luke 11:49).

Here is the context of 1 Chronicles 16:22: David is publicly praising God by giving a condensed review of the miraculous history of Israel. He cites some of the miracles God performed to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (1 Chronicles 16:15–18, referencing Genesis 50:24 and Exodus 2:24). Through these miracles, God created a nation of Abraham’s descendants that would bless the entire world (see Genesis 12:1–3). No one and nothing could prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled, even against all odds.

In the verses leading up to God’s command “Do not touch my anointed ones,” we read this:
“When they were but few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in it,
they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
He allowed no one to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings” (1 Chronicles 16:19–21).
This passage refers to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When “they” (the patriarchs) were few in number, they lived as wandering strangers in a strange land (see Hebrews 11:9). Through all their travels and travails, God protected them, increased their number, and prevented the powerful rulers of the lands where they stayed from harming them.

For example, God protected Abraham twice while staying in hostile nations whose kings lusted after his wife. Neither king laid a finger on Abraham or Sarah but instead sent the couple away unharmed and even enriched them (Genesis 12 and 20). The same happened to Isaac (Genesis 26). Jacob arrived in Paddan Aram with nothing, but he left with vast riches (Genesis 31); after all his dealings with his unscrupulous Uncle Laban, Jacob said, “God has not allowed him to harm me” (verse 7).

So the point of 1 Chronicles 16:22 (and Psalm 105:15) is that nothing and no one can derail God’s will; God had a plan for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He refused to let the kings of Canaan and Egypt injure them: “For their sake he rebuked kings: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones’” (1 Chronicles 16:21–22). The patriarchs were His prophets. They were His “anointed ones”; that is, God chose them to accomplish a specific work in the world.

David, who orchestrated the praise of 1 Chronicles 16, applied God’s command not to injure God’s anointed to his own situation. King Saul was trying to kill David at one time, and David and his men were on the run. One night, David’s men came upon Saul and his army while they were sleeping. Abishai rejoiced that they had the advantage over their enemies and suggested they kill Saul then and there. But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can lift a hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? . . . As surely as the LORD lives, the LORD Himself will strike him down. . . . But the LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:9–11). It is God who takes vengeance, not we (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19).

The command from God “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” was for a specific group of people for a specific time: God preserved the patriarchs from physical harm. The prophets of the Old Testament have given way to teachers in the New (see 2 Peter 2:1). No one today can properly quote 1 Chronicles 16:22 to deflect criticism or silence challengers. No apostle in the New Testament ever told anyone “Do not touch God’s anointed” as a means of insulating himself from critique.

The fact is that all believers today are God’s anointed. We are all set apart for the work God is accomplishing in this world (1 John 2:20). “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22).

Since all believers are God’s anointed, does this mean that His command “Do not touch my anointed ones” keeps us from all harm? No, believers still suffer the effects of living in a fallen world. But, at the same time, believers know that God is 100 percent in control, and He can easily protect His children. Whatever happens to them is allowed by Him. Satan himself can’t lay a finger on God’s children without God’s explicit permission (see Job 1:12; 2:6). So we trust God in everything. No matter what happens in our lives, we trust that God is in control and will equip, empower, and protect us to complete His plan for us: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).

Recommended Resource: Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

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