What does it mean to “touch the Lord’s anointed”?

In 2 Samuel 1:14, David asks the Amalekite messenger:

                         “Why were you not afraid to kill the Lord’s anointed one?”

The phrasing is familiar because in 1 Samuel when David and his followers have the opportunity to kill Saul themselves, David tells Abishai:

“Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one?”

Here, the phrase “the anointed one” is seen to refer to the chosen king over Israel although Psalm 105 refers plurally to the whole of Israel as the Lord’s anointed ones and so under his protection. 

Is there a relevant application of the command not to touch, attack, kill or destroy the Lord’s anointed one for today’s church?  On Sunday, we primarily focused on a “How much more” application. If David could say this of a flawed man like Saul, then how much more should our concern be for Christ’s honour as the perfect and eternal King?

However, this still leaves the question as to whether there is a direct link across to other believers.  I say this because some times I’ve heard of people referring to this verse as a reason why Christians should not speak out against other Christian leaders. After Sunday’s service one person told me that they’d heard this said in some church circles and it seemed particularly to be the case with prosperity teachers.

I want to suggest two reasons why we should guard very carefully against rushing down that route.

1.       Because we must not lose sight of the Biblical Theology and typology here. The title “The Lord’s Anointed” is significant and is meant to show us how the Kings of Israel point forward to Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one. In other words, we don’t have any other “anointed ones” over us save for Chris who is our prophet, priest and king.

2.       Because I think that there is a sense even in terms of Saul’s serious moral failings (and David may not have known about all of them) that in David’s eyes, he is still part of god’s people and still functioning in the role given to him by God until the day God removes him physically from the Kingdom. That means there is a category difference between how David regarded Saul and how we should regard those who are false teachers. It is clear that they do not belong to God’s people in any sense at all, they are usurpers who have infiltrated from the outside. They are the ones who seek to touch/attack the Lord’s anointed one and the Lord’s anointed ones because they are like the robbers who come in to harm and to steal, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have come in to kill.

Now with that clarity in mind, there are still some principles for how we are to treat other believers and Christian leaders when they fall. We mentioned some of these in the sermon and these are applications that we can draw from wider Scripture. These are what we would call “analogous implications.”

1.       Our general concern for other believers means that our concern is always for their restoration as well as the protection of the church. There is a great difference between seeking to challenge, correct and rebuke and seeking to harm, slander or destroy. This is another reason why it is shocking to use 2 Samuel 1:14 to defend those teaching falsehood from challenge.  It is not a protection against challenge, after all, Samuel the prophet challenged Saul and his successor, Nathan, challenged David. No-one in the church, including leaders should count themselves as above rebuke and correction.

2.       There is also a right and healthy respect for the role of leaders in church. Leaders who put themselves out there for the gospel can be at risk of gossip and false accusation.  Paul is very clear that an accusation against an elder should not be entertained unless there are two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). Remember that this is not a stricter standard of evidence but exactly the same standard of evidence that the Law required for all matters of justice. Leaders should still be dealt with justly.

3.       I think that there is a right and healthy respect for the biblical offices of elder and deacon. I want to suggest that this is important because sadly some people have a bad experience of authority in the church, they see authoritarianism, they witness an elder act abusively, fall into sin or teach falsehood and they reject all sense of Biblical leadership and authority. We should not allow the failings of some to cause us to despise proper, godly church leadership.

4.       There should be a strong warning here against Christian leaders who descend into tribalism and rivalry.  Other elders and pastors are not your rivals to be fought with and nor are God’s people your private possessions, sheep to be swapped, haggled over, stolen. 

5.       We will also be reminded about what Christ says of those who harm or cause “little ones to stumble.” Indeed we should have a far greater concern for the spiritual well-being of vulnerable young Christians than protecting the bully-boy self declared apostle from being challenged and having his inflated ego burst.

What do you think? How would you apply this verse?