The subject of “spiritual abuse” is one that is very serious and must be addressed whenever it rears its ugly head. A prime example of spiritual abuse is the list of allegations presented by 21 former pastors at Mars Hill against Mark Driscoll. There are plenty of people reporting and writing about the struggles of Mars Hill over the past several years. Yesterday, Mark yielded (a step in the right direction) and announced he would step down (temporarily) as Senior Pastor while the elders review the charges. Today’s post will not be about Mars Hill; rather, we will look at one of the most commonly misquoted scriptures, often to silence anyone who dare question, challenge, rebuke, or correct a leader in the church. This is a strong-arm tactic that can sometimes lead to Spiritual Abuse, and today we are going to look at this verse in its context.
Touch Not God’s Anointed
I’ve seen this partial quote used primarily by those claiming to have a special anointing of the Holy Spirit to either prophesy or to heal or even to cast vision for a body of believers. They sometimes place themselves in a Mosaic leadership role (or claim the role of an Apostle) where they hear from God in private, and then they tell the people what God has commanded and they all follow the prophetic leader. Should anyone disagree with the vision or the direction, the implication is that they aren’t disagreeing with the man, they are disagreeing with the Holy Spirit and so should probably either repent from their disagreement or find a different place “where the Holy Spirit leads them”. Should anyone dare to challenge what is being proclaimed or taught by the self-proclaimed “anointed one”, the partial quote of “touch not God’s anointed” might come out (tends to happen more in blogs or on twitter than in sermons, but I have heard it). So let’s look at where this comes from and see if the application fits.
The phrase, “Touch not my anointed ones” (ESV) can be found in 2 places, 1 Chronicles 16 and again in Psalms 105. This is a song of thanksgiving written by King David after the Ark of the Covenant is finally returned to Jerusalem and was placed in David’s Tent. This is after Uzzah was struck dead for wrongfully touching the Ark, despite his desire not to see it fall. I believe that what is recorded in 1 Chronicles is what took place at the time and in that moment, and then David wrote a more detailed song of thanksgiving detailing what God had done for His people in the 105th Psalm. Let’s look at the account in 1 Chronicles.
1 Chronicles 16:1-22 (ESV)
1 And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. 2 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord 3 and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. 4 Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. 5 Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. 7 Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.
8 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
9 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
11 Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
13 O offspring of Israel his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
14 He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
15 Remember his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
16 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
17 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
18 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
as your portion for an inheritance.”
19 When you were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
20 wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
21 he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
22 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”
Interesting that this verse doesn’t get fully quoted whenever it is invoked today. Completing the sentence “do my prophets no harm” would make it extremely difficult to equate “harm” with questioning, discerning, rebuking, or refuting said prophet. This isn’t harm as in “the reputation of my ministry has been marred”, this refers to real harm.
David here, is giving thanks to the Lord God and leading all people in a song of thanksgiving. He opens up by praising the Name of God. In verse 12, he transitions to remembrance of all the wondrous works the Lord God has done for His people. The Covenant God made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac and to Jacob as a statue. An everlasting covenant. Then in verse 19, he goes back to when they were few in number, of little account. Notice to whom the Lord God spoke the command “touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!“, to the kings of the kingdoms in which God’s people wandered as sojourners. When did such a rebuke take place? We can find one such occasion in Genesis 20.
Genesis 20 (ESV)
1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.”17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Abraham was indeed a prophet of the Lord God. We see here a few things. First, Abraham sought to protect his own life by misleading Abimelech. We see in scripture that this was a sin committed by Abraham, nevertheless, God acted first to protect Abimelech from committing sin against Sarah and Abraham. We see clearly God telling Abimelech that it was by His Grace that the king had not touched Sarah. Had he done so, God would have judged all that belonged to Abimelech, despite Abraham’s deception. That is the power of a covenant, and marriage is a covenant. Nevertheless, God intervened and then He spoke to Abimelech directly in a dream, warning him of his impending disaster. Abimelech responded in repentance and confusion since he had acted in good-faith as far as he was aware. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this is no small assertion. God does not rebuke him for this, in fact, He says “Yes, I know…” God then directs Abimelech to return Sarah to her husband, His prophet, and ask for Abraham to pray over the house of Abimelech so that no harm will befall him. In Abimelech’s confrontation with Abraham, notice that Abimelech charges Abraham with wrong doing, with sinning against Abimelech and doing to him things that ought not be done. Abraham had wronged Abimelech, and sinned against him. Abimelech, after hearing directly from God that he needed to correct a wrong and seek prayer, was justified in accusing Abraham (God’s prophet) of wrong doing. Abraham confessed his sin to Abimelech, shared his reasoning, and Abimelech forgave Abraham and granted him free travels and mercy while in his lands. He restored Sarah to him and paid a proof of her innocence (that he had NOT touched her) so that all may know that she was vindicated and that no adultery was committed.
God Made the Declaration
In both the Psalm and the account in 1 Chronicles, it is clear that David is praising and thanking God for His protection of His people from the Gentiles. That God told kings and nations “touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm”. Whether or not you believe that God still appoints Prophets today, the claim of being a prophet of God isn’t strengthened by the same person making a declaration that was made by God to protect His people (Israel) from the nations. If the misquote comes as a response to someone challenging the validity of a man’s claim to being a prophet, then quoting this scripture is at best an attempt at applying circular reasoning and at worst an attempt to silence Biblical discernment through fear of invoking the wrath of God. Especially since we in modern-day Christianity are not seeking to stone or put to death.
False Doctrine & Teaching is Harmful
Titus 1:7-14 (ESV) 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
To the one claiming a special anointing from God, preach the word of God and submit to the test of a prophet. Know that if what you say will come to pass does not, you spoke presumptuously and took the Name of the Lord in vain. Know also that if you preach a different gospel than the one preached by the Apostles, Galatians 1 says you are to be accursed. (twice, and the Apostle Paul included himself, and Angels in that charge). If you think you are speaking the very words of God, you would do well to test them in God’s Word first before speaking. God’s voice is not the only one we can hear, and we are commanded not to believe every spirit, but to test them to see they are of God.
2 Timothy 2:14-19 (ESV) 14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
If you are a cessationist, then you have even less excuse to whip out this misquoted verse/phrase. Either what you teach/preach is biblically sound (meaning, the Word of God serves as the testimony of what you preach) or it is not and you need to repent. Either way, it is God’s Word that determines truth, not your self-proclaimed “anointing” or your seminary background. Pointing to a “church father” who is not one of the Apostles is equally unhelpful. All Scripture is God-breathed and sufficient.
We serve a loving and gracious God, one who loves and protects His people. Put your trust in God and in His Word. It is not for you to scare your “opponents” into silence or capitulation. That is abuse. Take every thought captive to obey Christ, that is, to His Word.
Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May the Lord bless and keep you,