Return to “The Anointing”: Studies from Scripture

Vine’s Dictionary offers us the following explanation about “anointing”:

The Old Testament most commonly uses the Hebrew word mashach to indicate “anointing” in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function. Thus, Elisha was “anointed” to be a prophet. More typically, kings were “anointed” for their office.

In the Old Testament before King Saul, there were only anointed priests and priestly objects. No one had ever been anointed as a king until Saul. Let’s see how this came about.

The Israelites reject the Lord as their king

The prophet Samuel was faithful in Israel as a prophet, but because his sons were corrupt they were rejected by the people.

1 Samuel 8:5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

By requesting a king like the gentile nations around them, the Israelites essentially rejected the Lord as their king. What would their king require of them? Among other obligations, he would require a tithe from them.

15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. …17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. …19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

The Israelites wanted to be “like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” Instead of trusting the Lord to lead them and go out before them and fight their battles, they preferred a human king. The insistence on having a king offended God; it was certainly not His will for His people. Nevertheless, God allowed them to have their way. But there would be consequences.

Let’s now turn our attention to Saul.

Saul, “the Lord’s anointed”

1 Samuel 9:2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

Saul was physically impressive in the sight of the people. Before the Lord chose Saul to be their king, he reminded them a second time that they had rejected God who saved them out of all their disasters and calamities.

1 Samuel 10:19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.”

Time and time again the Lord had shown himself faithful to deliver them from danger. But the stiff-necked Israelites would have none of it. They stubbornly rejected God and demanded a human king. But the man best suited for the job as deliverer of the Israelites was all too human.

1 Samuel 10:22 So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?” And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

Saul led the Israelites in some victories

Saul of course was in time able to overcome his initial timidity. He even had some successes leading the Israelites against their enemies.

1 Samuel 11:11 The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

After this great victory Saul was confirmed as king with great celebration

1 Samuel 11:12 The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.” 14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the LORD. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

After that, for the first time in Scripture Saul was referred to as the Lord’s “anointed.”

1 Samuel 12:3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. …5 Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.”

Emphatically again for a third time: the evil of asking for a “king”

Perhaps for a good reason, Scripture reminds us of how evil it is in the sight of God to ask for a king. Yet God allows it and sets a “king” over us. Look how God reprimanded the Israelites through Samuel.

1 Samuel 12:7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors. …12 “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. 

…16 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.” …19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

Note that even though Saul was referred to as the Lord’s anointed, the Lord made it abundantly clear through the thunder and rain that the request of the Israelites for a king was evil and sinful in his sight.

Cracks appear in Saul’s armor

It did not take long for the human nature of the anointed king to get the best of him, and he disobeyed the command of the Lord to wait for Samuel to come to Gilgal to offering the burnt offering. Instead he presumptuously did it himself.

1 Samuel 13:13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

Saul continued to lead the Israelites in their conflict against their various enemies and did manage to accomplish victories, although not without struggles. Then he disobeyed the Lord’s clear command once again by sparing the captured enemy king Agag.

1 Samuel 15:8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9  But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs–everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

God regrets giving in to the demand of the Israelites

Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night. Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (1Sa 15:11-12)

We see the Lord’s anointed setting up a monument in his own honor. Can this be considered simply an isolated case, or does this type of self-promotion ever take place among the Lord’s “anointed” servants today as well?

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (1Sa 15:13-14)

Saul’s hypocrisy in greeting Samuel with the Lord’s blessing and self-congratulations is almost laughable were it not so tragic. What was Saul’s reason for his disobeying Samuel’s instructions and sparing some of the plunder?

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” (1Sa 15:15)

The reason Saul spared the best of the sheep and cattle was “to sacrifice to the LORD your God.” Servants of God may cite the motivation “for the glory of God” as the factor behind some action or practice. But Samuel saw through Saul and rebuked him harshly for his outright disobedience.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1Sa 15:22-23)

Saul admits his sin in violating the Lord’s command.

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. (1Sa 15:24)

But this time there would be no forgiveness for “the Lord’s anointed.” It is possible to cross the line with God.

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!” As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” (1Sa 15:26-29)

The Lord’s anointed was a man-pleaser

Saul, as popular leaders can be tempted to do, feared man. It was because he was a man-pleaser that he disobeyed the Lord’s command.

1Sa 15:24  Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them.

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” (1Sa 15:30)

When we try to please men, we will end up disobeying the Lord.

1 Samuel 15:35  Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Scripture repeats God’s regret at giving in to the Israelites’ demand and making Saul king over Israel. And three times it reminds us that the demand itself was evil. Can we New Testament believers learn something from this?

Saul’s final days

In Chapter 16 of 1 Samuel, God chooses David to take Saul’s place as king. The Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. We see God blessing David greatly, and Saul so possessed by jealousy that he persecuted David, attempting to kill him on various occasions.

Saul’s free fall from grace was complete after Samuel’s death. He was overcome by the spirit of fear and terror at the sight of an assembled Philistine army. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. In sheer desperation he committed the abomination of hiring a medium to bring his former mentor Samuel up from the dead for Saul to consult with him—the forbidden practice of necromancy.

The very next day Saul and his three sons were killed in a losing battle with his army against the Philistines. Saul was beheaded, and his body and the bodies of his sons were desecrated by being hung from the wall in Beth Shan. This is what eventually happened to Israel’s first anointed king—the king they demanded from God to lead them and fight their battles. There is something very important we need to learn from this tragic story.

“Do not lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed”

 Let’s examine the likely origin of this expression or others similar to it which are heard in some circles today. It was David’s refusal to lay a hand on his master Saul.

But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” (1Sa 26:9-11)

Dave refused to defend himself against Saul by killing him when he had the opportunity to do so. He knew Saul would certainly go down in time. But it would not be by David’s hand. But by no means did this mean that David was accepting or submitting to Saul’s authority. He was in fact “in rebellion” against his master by fleeing from him and leading his own army of men. He simply refused to kill Saul with his own hand.

Yet David’s example is used by “anointed” ministers today in the Church to respond to possible questions about their teaching, practices, or personal lives. Their followers are to continue to submit to their leadership because no one is to question or criticize “the Lord’s anointed.” Like Saul we are all sinners with frailties; this includes our leaders. We must continue to submit to them. “The anointing” on them covers everything.

But what does the New Testament teach?

Read what Paul commanded Timothy, who was a young leader in the Church.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Ti 4:16)

Leaders should be beyond reproach.

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1Ti 3:2)

Should we continue to follow leaders whose lives and doctrines are questionable? The use of the term “the Lord’s anointed” has become what amounts to a license in some circles of the Church today for immorality and perversion of the Scriptures by ministers.

The “anointed” pastor of a very large church in Indonesia claimed that God had given him a “spiritual wife” (the daughter of a wealthy family, no less) while his real wife was still living. He is reportedly reluctant to shake hands with people because he fears that his “anointing” will leak out.

How do we apply this study to New Testament believers?

It is evil in God’s sight when believers want and depend on an “anointed” minister to fight their battles for them. There will be painful consequences for trusting in fallible men. No, the Lord wants believers to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) so that they can fight their own battles by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in them. This is trusting directly in the Lord and in His word.

For some reason, however, many believers do not want to be personally responsible for seeking the Lord themselves and for diligently studying the Scriptures. (Perhaps this is our legacy from Roman Catholicism which once allowed only priests to possess and read the Bible and that in Latin only.) They would rather trust and follow an “anointed” minister to do this for them. But when adoring believers raise up ministers to become superstars, they are on their way like Saul to becoming falling stars. There is only one “anointed one” to be exalted, and that is Jesus Christ. Those who follow and support an “anointed” minister will in time suffer disappointment.

Moreover, the phrase “do not touch my anointed ones” was never used in the context of David’s conflict with Saul. Rather it was used in a completely different context with a different meaning.

Who are “my anointed ones”?

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob. …When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” (Psa 105:5-6, 12-15)

1Ch 16:22  “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

“My anointed ones” did not refer to Saul or to any Old Testament king or priest, but to God’s people the Israelites in general. In the New Testament as well, all of God’s people are set apart as kings and priests to Him.

Revelation 1:6 and made us kings and priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (MKJV)

But what about David, the good anointed king?

Unlike Saul, David was pure in heart toward God. But in time even the anointed king David fell victim to his own accomplishments. He began to take the abundant blessings and victories of God in his life for granted and neglected to fear God. As every student of the Scriptures knows, David ended up committing adultery and murder. Even though God forgave him, David and his family suffered through terrible consequences as a result of his sin.

David’s son and successor King Solomon fared even worse than his father in the eyes of the Lord. With all of his vast wisdom and personal knowledge of his father’s wrongdoing, this anointed king still managed to sin against God by following his foreign wives in the worship of other gods  (I Kings 11).

Therefore the Israelite experiment whereby they put their trust in an “anointed human king” instead of the LORD to fight their battles for them did not turn out well. God knew it well in advance and called it “evil.” Yet He allowed it.

Could this be one reason why in the New Testament there is no mention of “anointed” servants of God who can minister and deliver people from the hand of the enemy with supernatural power?

Even if there is such a thing as a “special” anointing for New Testaments servants of God as there was for Old Testament kings—which is highly debatable—we can see how such a “special” anointing before the adoring crowds can lead to the sin of pride and eventual downfall. (“After all, if God forgave David, he will certainly forgive me. So it will not be fatal if I give in to this temptation…”) Simply put, human beings are not meant to be worshiped. That is the prerogative reserved for Christ alone. Unfortunately the spectacular anointing on his servants will not fail to elicit worship and adoration from crowds. And like Lucifer the anointed cherub their hearts will become proud (Ezekiel 28:14-17), and some will fall.

Only Jesus Christ is anointed to save, heal and deliver

In New Testament Scripture, only once is the verb “anointed” used to refer to believers.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2Co 1:21-22)

God anoints all believers with the Holy Spirit as a seal of His ownership. The Holy Spirit in our hearts guarantees the glory which is to come. Therefore the New Testament does not teach that some ministers are specially anointed to minister to others with power as is claimed by some in the Church today. No, It is God who guarantees salvation for all of us as He anoints us with the Holy Spirit.

As a noun, the word “anointing” with reference to believers is used in the New Testament only in 1 John 2.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1Jn 2:20)

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1Jn 2:27)

The anointing here is for all believers to know the truth. That anointing teaches us about all things. We should not simply trust and depend on an “anointed” teacher to teach us. Rather we should eventually be able to study the Scriptures on our own with the Holy Spirit as our true teacher guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). The anointing mentioned here in 1 John 2 is clearly not an anointing on a special servant of God to lead us or minister to us with supernatural power.

Vine’s Dictionary, commenting on this use of “anointing” in 1 John 2, says:

That believers have “an anointing from the Holy One” indicates that this anointing renders them holy, separating them to God. The passage teaches that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the all efficient means of enabling believers to possess a knowledge of the truth.

Therefore in the New Testament, all believers are anointed by the Holy Spirit to be holy, consecrated, and set apart for God through the knowledge of the truth—which sets them free from sin and enables them to become partakers of the divine nature. The anointing is not something special given only to some to minister in some supernatural way. The anointing is not a license for immorality on the part of some ministers who cover their various shortcomings and unscriptural teachings and manifestations by quoting, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” Yet, as we clearly see in the Church today, God allows us to have “anointed” leaders to lead us and fight out battles for us if we demand them.

But the New Testament does not teach that there is a special anointing available for us to minister to others. Rather it clearly teaches that believers are given power, authority (Luke 9:1-2), and gifts (1 Corinthians 12) to minister to others. These are very different from “anointing.” Power, authority, and gifts for ministry can be for believers. But the “anointing” to minister is reserved only for deity—the Son of God. When we claim to have such an anointing, we could be crossing the line to tread on dangerous ground.

For further study: The “Anointing” Revisited

The Vital Difference between Gift and Anointing

“The yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing”?

That’s it

Aside from the references in 2 Corinthians 1:21 and 1 John 2, there are no other New Testament scriptures which teach that believers or pastors or servants of God are anointed.

When New Testament Scriptures speak of an anointing to minister to others with power, that anointing is upon the Messiah Jesus Christ alone, not on believers. He alone is anointed to heal, to deliver, to make well, and to save. “Christ” in fact means “anointed one.” He alone is anointed to save us.

The demand for an “anointed king” today: What I saw on Christian Television


Portions taken from Vine’s Dictionary

As a verb, mashach (Strong’s H4886) means “to anoint, smear, consecrate.” The word is found for the first time in the Old Testament in Genesis 31:13 : “…where thou anointed the pillar, and…vowed a vow unto me…” This use illustrates the idea of anointing something or someone as an act of consecration. The basic meaning of the word, however, is simply to “smear” something on an object.

The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate “anointing” in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function. Thus, Elisha was “anointed” to be a prophet. More typically, kings were “anointed” for their office. Vessels used in the worship at the sacred shrine (both tabernacle and temple) were consecrated for use by “anointing” them.

As a noun, mashiach (H4899) means “anointed one.” A word that is important both to Old Testament and New Testament understandings is the noun mashiach, which gives us the term messiah. As is true of the verb, mashiach implies an anointing for a special office or function. Thus, David refused to harm Saul because Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” (1Sa 24:6). Interestingly enough, the only person named “messiah” in the Old Testament was Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, who was commissioned by God to restore Judah to her homeland after the Exile (Isa 45:1). The anointing in this instance was more figurative than literal, since Cyrus was not aware that he was being set apart for such a divine purpose.

The New Testament

The New Testament title of Christ is derived from the Greek Christos which is exactly equivalent to the Hebrew mashiach, for it is also rooted in the idea of “to smear with oil.” So the term Christ emphasizes the special anointing of Jesus of Nazareth for His role as God’s chosen one.

The verb aleipho (G218) meaning to anoint is a general term used for “an anointing” of any kind, whether of physical refreshment after washing, e.g., of the sick or a dead body.

The verb chrio (G5548) meaning to anoint is more limited in its use than aleipho; it is confined to “sacred and symbolical anointings”; of Christ as the “Anointed” of God, Luk 4:18; Act 4:27; Act 10:38, and Heb 1:9, where it is used metaphorically in connection with “the oil of gladness.” The title Christ signifies “The Anointed One,” The word (Christos) is rendered “(His) Anointed” in Act 4:26, RV.

Once it is said of believers, 2Co 1:21.

The noun “anointing” in the New Testament

The noun chrisma (G5545), the corresponding noun to chrio above, signifies “an unguent, or an anointing.” It was prepared from oil and aromatic herbs. It is used only metaphorically in the NT; by metonymy, of the Holy Spirit, 1Jo 2:20, 1Jo 2:27, twice.

That believers have “an anointing from the Holy One” indicates that this anointing renders them holy, separating them to God. The passage teaches that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the all efficient means of enabling believers to possess a knowledge of the truth.