“Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm.” This verse is found in two books of the Bible namely 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15. In fact, part of Psalm 105 is a repetition of the song of David in which these words were said in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36.
I would contend that this is one of verses that is often prone to abuse. I have heard different servants of God and their followers respectively using this verse to challenge or even scare those who rebuke or points out errors, heresies, or sin in the lives of these “men and women of God.” But if we interpret the verse in its context would we arrive at the implication that “men and women of God” should not be rebuked for any error or heresy or sin? This is the question I am endeavoring to answer in this post.
Understanding any passage of the Bible in its appropriate context is the first and very crucial step in the art and science of interpreting and applying Scripture. Disregard of context in which any passage of Scripture was given leads to all sorts of errors in interpreting and applying biblical truths to our present situation. Thus we should begin with context. What is the context in which these words, “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm” were said.
As already pointed out, we first encounter these words in 1 Chronicles 16:22. They are part of a song of thanksgiving that David together with Asaph and his brothers sang after they brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. For some time, the Ark of the Covenant was outside Jerusalem. But, when David became King of Israel, he together with the elders of Jerusalem agreed to bring the ark to the headquarters of the kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem. The first time they attempted to do this, they did not follow God’s prescribed procedures of carrying the ark hence Uzzah was killed and the ark was abandoned at the house of Obededom (1 Chronicles 13:1-14). However, on the second occasion, David and Israelites followed God’s instructions and they successfully brought it into Jerusalem.
It was after this event that David sang this song of thanksgiving to God. Briefly, in this song David gives thanks and praises God for his great and wondrous works. He goes back to the history of Israel and illustrates how God has demonstrated his great deeds starting from Abraham to his time. In recounting God’s wondrous works, he cites an instance when the Israelites came out of Egyptian slavery and began their journey to the Promised Land, Canaan. On this journey, they passed through different nations and kingdoms, and in reference to this David says:
“When you were few in number, and 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!”
This is the context in which this verse is to be interpreted and applied. Some have argued that since the anointed office in Israel was that of the king, the phrase “my anointed ones” refers to kings of Israel. However, by this time, Israel had no kings. Unless, we interpret it to mean that God was speaking in reference to future kings then this interpretation undoubtedly holds water. However, I share with John Calvin’s interpretation in which he says that “my anointed” ones or “my prophets” refer to Israel’s patriarchs since one of the patriarchs, Abraham, is also called a prophet in Genesis 20:7.
Having discovered out who “anointed ones” are in the passage, we need next to figure out the meaning of “touch not.” One major characteristic of Hebrew poetry or songs is parallelism in which the truth of the first line is repeated in the second line but not with the exact same words. This is the instance here. In other words, David could have easily said: “Touch not my anointed ones, touch not my anointed ones.” This would seem unnecessary repetition. For that reason, Hebrew poetry or songs employed parallelism to say the same truth in different words. Hence “touch not” is the same as “do no harm” and the referent of “my anointed ones” is the same as that of “my prophets” namely the patriarchs of Israel or the Israelites who sojourned from Egypt on the way to Canaan.
Therefore, if we are to interpret the verse in its own context, it would mean that God commanded the nations and kingdoms that Israelites were passing through from Egypt to Canaan not to harm them physically but to let them pass through freely and peacefully. Application of the verse includes the truth that God protects and guards his chosen people or servants. This is what we need to draw from the verse. Furthermore, from this verse we can deduce that God prohibits any type of physical harm not only to his chosen people but to all people. The Sixth Commandment (Thou shall not kill) and Genesis 9:5, 6 confirm to this truth.
So, “Touch not my anointed ones” has to do with prohibition of physical harm and not rebuke of error, heresy or sin. Nowhere in the Bible has God commanded that we do not rebuke his people or servants. Instead, the Bible encourages us to rebuke error, heresy or sin in love and truth. God used his prophets in the Old Testament to rebuke sin or error or falsehood in the lives of kings and false prophets (2 Samuel 12:1-15; 1 Kings 18:17, 18; 2 Chronicles 16:7-10; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 11:16-21).
In the New Testament, Apostle Paul rebuked his fellow Apostle Peter of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). The Scripture itself tells us that God has given us his word for among other things to rebuke error, heresy or sin: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof (rebuke), for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, italics mine).
God has said, “Touch not or do no harm to my anointed (chosen) ones.” But he has never said, “Rebuke not my anointed ones even though they commit error, heresy or sin in their lives and ministries.”