Did David spare the Lord’s Anointed (1 Samuel 24-28) in 1 Sam 24:1-15?

The command to touch not God’s anointed is found in two places in Scripture: “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

These passages are sometimes used in Pentecostaland Charismatic circles to defend certain preachers from criticism. Preachers who promote themselves or their ministries as “anointed” warn their would-be critics, “Touch not mine anointed,” This helps to insulate them from scrutiny and allows them to spread falsehoods and bad theology unrestrained.

Others take God’s command “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm” to mean that Christians are promised protection from all bad things.

Both of the above interpretations of “Touch not mine anointed,” 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, “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:” Luke 11:49

The context of 1 Chronicles 16:22: David is publicly praising God by giving a condensed review of the 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 (Genesis 12:1–3). No one and nothing could prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled, even against all odds.

“When ye were but few, even a few, and strangers in it. And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes” 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.

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: “Touch not mine anointed” (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.

“And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.” 1 Samuel 26:9–11.

It is God who takes vengeance, not us (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19).

The command from God “Touch not mine anointed, and 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 (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 which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” 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 (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:

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” Philippians 1:6

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