There are many passages in the Bible where expressions similar or identical to the one in the title of this article appear, including 1 Chronicles 16:21–22 and Psalm 105:15. The most well-known passage may be the one in which David, pressured by his men to seize the opportunity to kill Saul in the cavern, answered: “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him [Saul], seeing he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:6).
David’s reluctance to kill Saul because Saul was the Lord’s anointed has been interpreted by many evangelicals as a biblical principle that applies to pastors of modern-day churches. To them, once the pastors are the Lord’s anointed, one cannot raise a hand against them; that is, they cannot be contradicted, questioned, or criticized. God’s anointing works as a kind of protection and immunity given by God to His anointed. To go against them would be to go against God Himself. But is this really what the Bible teaches?
The expression “the Lord’s anointed” refers to how the kings of Israel were officially chosen and designated by God to occupy the role through the anointing done by a judge or prophet (10:1; 16:13). David didn’t want to kill Saul because he recognized that Saul, although unworthy, occupied a role designated by God. David did not want to be guilty of killing the one who had received the royal anointing.
However, what cannot be ignored is that this respect for the life of the king did not stop David from confronting Saul and accusing him of injustice and perversity in persecuting him without cause (24:15). David was not going to kill him, but he invoked God as judge against Saul in front of the whole army of Israel and openly asked God to punish Saul (v. 12). David also told his allies that God Himself would in due time kill Saul for his sins (26:9–10). But David did not want to be the one to kill him. This, however, did not stop David from confronting him, invoking the justice and vengeance of the Lord against him, and handing him into the hands of the Lord so that He, in His time, would duly punish Saul for his sins.
There is no doubt that our spiritual leaders deserve all our respect and trust, and that we should honor their authority—while, of course, they are obedient to the Word of the Lord, preaching the truth and walking in a dignified, honest, and truthful way. When they become reprehensible, they must be corrected. Paul admonishes Timothy to do this with elders who have done wrong (1 Tim. 5:19–20).
Men of God, those anointed by Him for pastoral work, don’t reply to disagreements, criticisms, and questioning by shutting the mouths of the sheep with “don’t touch the Lord’s anointed,” but with work, arguments, truth, and sincerity. “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” is the reply of those who do not have an argument or an example to give as an answer.