Part the First
When they were few in number,So there it is, the infamous passage. “Touch not my anointed ones.” It’s a favorite passage of authoritarian abusers throughout the church, a sort of “Get Out of Criticism Free” card for preachers. Because, you know, obviously what the Psalmist has in mind when he talks about sojourners of little account wandering from nation to nation is wealthy American preachers who don’t want anyone looking too closely into their doctrine, their family lives, or their tax returns.
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”
Or did he mean something else? Psalm 105 is one of the great historical Psalms which celebrates the story of God’s Old Covenant people. This particular segment speaks of the experience of the Patriarchs. During their day Israel was not a nation so much as a rather large extended household. They drifted about among various kingdoms, owning no land and having little military strength. How did they survive?
The answer is of course the sovereignty of their God. He did not so much make a law as He prevented the nations from hurting them. God’s “words” here are symbolic. They do not so much represent something He said as something He did. He protected nascent Israel when it could not protect itself.
At this point it seems rather silly to turn this passage into a protection for modern day clerical kings against the spiritual peasantry who support them, doesn’t it? When we speak this way we sound like nothing quite so much as a bully appealing to the teacher for protection against a weakling. It’s all backwards.
But there is something more to the passage. We must ask in what sense the Patriarchs were “the anointed” of God. The Psalm clarifies this in the very next phrase; in their day they were the Lord’s prophets. God appeared to Abraham, to Jacob, and to Joseph. Quite possibly he appeared to Isaac as well. It was in this sense that they were “anointed” – the Spirit was poured out on them so that God might be revealed in the earth. This is part of the reason why God afforded them special protection. Is there hope in this detail for the monarchs of ecclesiastical empires?
Let’s flesh that out a bit. This is one of the few passages which ties the practice of anointing with the prophetic office. Elijah was commanded to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place, but there is greater precedent for anointing others. Priests were to be consecrated by anointing with oil. Eventually Samuel, the prophet raised as a priest, would anoint two men as king over Israel. So, the “anointed” of God could refer to His prophets, His priests, and His kings. That triad ought to ring in your ear; we’ll come back to it in a moment.
With the anointing of the kings we come to the age of the Psalms, and of Psalm 105 in particular. It is a Psalm of David, repeated in I Chronicles 16 as the song David sang when the Ark of the Covenant was first brought to Jerusalem. Now we know that to David the concept of anointing had special significance. In his days as an outlaw in the desert he understood that his only protection was from the Lord. Because he had been anointed as king, God would protect him. This took on moral significance for David; it would be rebellion against God to attack the anointed. He perceived that the same protection extended to the madman Saul, who also had been anointed as king. He refused to hurt Saul even when he had just cause, and he put to death the Amalekite who claimed to have killed the king.
Now that begins to look hopeful for the aspiring pastoral sociopath, doesn’t it! If even Saul was under God’s protection by his anointing, certainly the wildest pastors share something of the same protection. Apparently we can’t ever discipline or even criticize a pastor, even if he tries to murder his own kid with a spear.
Of course this completely ignores the manner in which Samuel, himself a prophet, spoke to Saul. It is also an argument lacking in proper complexity, for David’s theology of “the Anointed” is certainly complex. He protected Saul as the anointed of God, and He saw himself as the anointed – the primary focus of the advancement of God’s kingdom in his own day. But in his Psalms “the Anointed” takes on a deeper meaning.
The word first enters the book in Psalm 2:2. The kings and rulers of the earth make rebellion not only against the Lord, but also against His Anointed. At first glance, we might imagine David is speaking of himself. God responds that He has set His king on Zion, and urges men to submit. The language of adoption, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” could well be a reference to God’s adoption of David’s offspring. Is the Psalm speaking of the Davidic kings?
Of course you know the answer; the true fulfillment is in the last Davidic king, the Lord Jesus, who will dash the rebellious nations in pieces like so much brittle pottery. The Psalm ends with blessing on those who take refuge in Him – certainly not in David, but in David’s greater Son.
You see, “the Anointed” in the original Hebrew is the mashiyach, a word you know as “Messiah.” In the Greek translation of the Psalms, we are warned not to touch His christon, His Christ. In fact, it is in the Psalms that we learn that the practice anointing in the Old Testament was typical of (a foreshadowing of) the Christ.
The deeper reason for God’s protection of the Patriarchs was that they bore the promised Seed who would destroy Satan and his works. The anointed offices – prophet, priest, and king – were only hazy pictures of the great mediatorial office of the Christ.
So, who is the Anointed of God? Well, for starters, it certainly is not I! We have no prophets today precisely because Jesus is the Great Prophet – the One like Moses, to whom we must listen. We have no priests except our Great High Priest who intercedes for us in Heaven. We have no kings in the church because the Lord Jesus rules from His seat in the Heavenly Zion. To put it bluntly, we already have a Christ, and we need no other.Are there protections for the pastors in God’s church? Yes, but oddly, they are no more than the protections afforded to every person under the Mosaic law – two witnesses are required for a conviction. Pastors are to be heard, but questioned. They are to be followed, but only so long as they lead us to Christ. They are not held to the abysmally low standard set by King Saul, but to the rather lofty standard of Saul of Tarsus, who repeatedly urged the churches to remember how he suffered for the ministry.
Which leaves Psalm 105:15 where, exactly? Simply here: “Touch not the Lord’s Christ.” As the second Psalm makes so abundantly clear, rebellion against the true Anointed is rebellion against God Himself. The Christ is to be loved, obeyed and worshiped – at the peril of our souls. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way.”
Part the Second, being an Improvement upon the First
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”And just how have we done with that warning? The Lord’s Anointed “was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world did not know Him. He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.” If the world wasn’t lost and hopeless before, it certainly is now, right? God spent centuries warning mankind that His Anointed was coming, and even that His Anointed was His Son. Watch for Him, we were told. Listen to Him. Trust in Him. Obey Him. So when He got here, we promptly killed Him.
Can you imagine the absolute horror that fell on the Jews in Jerusalem when the truth of Peter’s sermon hit home? The entire Scriptures were intended to prepare them for Messiah, and when He came with “mighty wonders and signs” they “crucified and killed [Him] by the hands of lawless men.” Peter’s sermon is the most damning prosecutorial summation in history. “Kiss the Son,” we were told, and the only one to kiss Him was Judas.
Now Peter, preaching to Jews, emphasized the guilt of the Jews, but even He hinted at the equal guilt of the Gentiles – the “lawless” ones who carried out the ultimate act of regicide. Later, just as God had sent Peter to the Jews He sent Paul to the Gentiles, and Paul wasted no time making clear that every person is equally culpable under the Law: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:14-16)
So make no mistake, it is the World, and not only Israel, that is answerable for the murder of the Anointed. Nor do we escape judgment simply because we live centuries after the fact. In every act of rebellion against God and His Christ we are like Saul holding the coats at Stephen’s stoning. We, like him, “approved the execution” of the Son of God. The warning has been ignored, and as the Psalmist warned, “His wrath is quickly kindled.”
Except for this: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-10)
The Anointed of God, to whom we were supposed to submit but whom we murdered instead, “died for us.” In the very middle of our rebellion against Heaven, when we were still the enemies of the Lord and of His Christ, reconciliation came through the mercy of the Anointed. This is the epitome of grace: that the One who had every right to come in splendor and terror, wielding a rod of iron for our destruction, instead came first in humble poverty, bearing a cross for our salvation.
At that thought every Christian – including every pastor, every self-made pope, and every tin-pot ecclesiastical dictator – should go and prostrate himself before the Lord in thanksgiving and praise. How, we should ask ourselves, does this gospel leave any room for human pride?
The gospel of grace is entirely incompatible with a preening, self-promoting ministry. Paul knew his sin – he was “the chief of sinners.” He also knew the grace by which he had been saved. That is why he conducted himself in so lowly a fashion. He believed in pastoral authority – that much is clear – but he chose to work without the wages he deserved, to live without the wife he might have taken, to be insulted, beaten, chained, and ultimately killed. He believed in pastoral authority, but he sought to exercise that authority with something of the grace and mercy which the Anointed of God had shown to him.
What a foul disservice we do to the Word of God, then, if we go back to the Old Covenant and grab a verse about the Anointed of God and use it to set ourselves up with the very pomp which Christ and His Apostles rejected! The one thing which Psalm 105:15 most clearly does not mean is that pastors get to act like arrogant fools without any fear of rebuke!
Touch not the Lord’s Anointed? Well, we have; we killed Him. Yet He showed us grace, and through that grace we live. Can we find it in ourselves to live graciously?