The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Anointed: What it Does & Doesn’t Mean

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If your pastor says something is good, is that the same as God saying it is good? Not hardly. If your pastor says something is good, but God says that same thing is bad, then clearly God’s opinion trumps your pastor’s. The same is true for the word “anointed.” Your pastor might say his sermon was anointed, or claim that he is anointed. But what does God say? Unless God tells you that He approves of your pastor’s claim, then you can’t eliminate the possibility that the man is just full of hot air. As a general rule, if you substitute “pompous windbag” for the title “anointed”, you’ll get a far more accurate picture of what you’re dealing with. To understand why you should not view the “anointed” label as evidence of God’s approval, let’s learn about where the anointing ritual came from, and what our shady motivations are for using it in the Church today.

ANOINTING IN THE BIBLE

In the Bible, to anoint something meant to pour oil over it (not car oil, but a clear oil made from food, such as olive oil). Now oil was an extremely common thing, so people often jazzed up anointing oil with fragrant spices to make it stand apart from the rest.

What was the point of anointing something? To set it apart as special. One night, Jacob had an awe-inspiring vision in which he saw Yahweh speaking to him. When he woke up, superstitious Jacob decided that there had to be something super special about the plot of ground he was sleeping on. He then took the stone that he’d used for a pillow (ouch) and he poured oil on it. He then named the place Bethel and made a really stupid vow to God in which he said:

“If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then Yahweh will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Gen. 28:20-22)

Gee, warm God’s heart. IF God gives Jacob a bunch of material goodies and IF God gives Jacob constant protection and IF God takes Jacob where Jacob wants to go, THEN Jacob will say that Yahweh is his God. Oh, and he’ll use the oily rock to set up a sort of shrine to God and then he’ll give Him a measly tenth of his stuff. Touching. God is less than impressed with Jacob’s selfish offer.

So what do we learn from this example of anointing? Was it God’s idea to anoint the rock? No, it was Jacob’s, and Jacob was a little twerp who was miles away from sincerely loving God. This anointing was nothing more than a superstitious man’s reaction to a powerful spiritual experience. Should we be impressed with the anointing when Jacob’s heart attitude is so rotten? No, we shouldn’t. God is not impressed with the oily rock. He would have much preferred to have Jacob react better to His personal visitation. When God speaks to a man face to face, the appropriate reaction is for that man to bow his face to the ground, worship God as the glorious King that He is, and volunteer to serve God in any way that He asks. But this isn’t what we get from Jacob. His response to God was, “If You want me to respect You, You’d better give me what I want first.” What a yuck.

What we learn from this first example is that anointing wasn’t something God invented as a sacred tradition. Instead, it was a well-established cultural custom which God later made a part of His religious rituals. Anointing was really born out of superstition and the desire to memorialize things. Yahweh later associated this practice with Himself in certain contexts, but people continued to anoint things for reasons that had nothing to do with God. Because Christians today are discouraged from studying the Old Testament, it’s easy for them to buy the idea that anointing has always been some sacred thing that God came up with. But as foolish Jacob demonstrated, anointing in the Bible was far more common and a lot less meaningful than we like to pretend.

ANOINTING PRIESTS & SACRED OBJECTS

Since He’s working with people who already have a tradition of pouring oil on things that they want to mark as special in some way, Yahweh makes up a rule that the priests who work for Him in the Tabernacle must go through an anointing ritual before they are considered acceptable in His sight. The first high priest was Moses’ brother Aaron, and Moses is the one Yahweh is talking to in this passage:

“For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics; you shall also make sashes for them, and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty. You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests.” (Ex. 28:40-41)

Now because anointing was such a common cultural practice, Yahweh came up with His own special recipe to set His anointing oil apart from others.

Yahweh said to Moses: “Take for yourself the finest spices: 12½ pounds of liquid myrrh, half as much (6¼ pounds) of fragrant cinnamon, 6¼ pounds of fragrant cane, 12½ pounds of cassia (by the sanctuary shekel), and one gallon of olive oil. Prepare from these a holy anointing oil, a scented blend, the work of a perfumer; it will be holy anointing oil.

With it you are to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the testimony, the table with all its utensils, the lampstand with its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. Consecrate them and they will be especially holy. Whatever touches them will be consecrated. Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them to serve Me as priests.

Tell the Israelites: This will be My holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It must not be used for ordinary anointing on a person’s body, and you must not make anything like it using its formula. It is holy, and it must be holy to you. Anyone who blends something like it or puts some of it on an unauthorized person must be cut off from his people.” (Ex. 30:22-33)

Notice how it’s not just the priests, but also all the Tabernacle furnishings that get anointed. Notice the reference to consecration. To consecrate something just means to set it apart as dedicated to a sacred purpose. The Communion elements that get passed out at your church are consecrated. They are regular things that were probably bought at a regular grocery store, but then they were set aside in the church kitchen to be used only for God’s Communion, and that qualifies them as  consecrated.

It’s important to understand that there was nothing original about Yahweh’s sacrificial system. In these times, every culture worshiped a variety of gods. These gods all had temples and altars built for them. Special religious priests served as mediators between the gods and the people, and those priests processed animal (and sometimes human) sacrifices to these gods. So while Yahweh’s sacrifices and priests and anointing all sound foreign to us today, to the Jews these were all common activities. The challenge then becomes, how does God make very common practices feel different when directed at Him? After all, God is real—all those other gods the people are worshiping are nothing but figments of their imaginations. This is where special rituals were needed—new spice recipes, special garments for the priests, new rules about how to handle all the sacrificing equipment. Offering sacrifices to Yahweh needed to feel different than offering sacrifices to an idol like Baal, so Yahweh came up with a bunch of very particular rules. There was nothing unique about the basic activities of bathing, anointing, and putting on special clothes—all the idol worshipers were doing these things as well. But by designing His own unique props—like the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle—Yahweh set Himself apart as a different God, especially as One who was less tolerant of people being slack about respecting Him. Notice how He says:

“Anyone who blends something like it or puts some of it on an unauthorized person must be cut off from his people.” (Ex. 30:33)

Imitating or misapplying Yahweh’s special anointing oil was enough to get you driven out of Israel. Don’t mess with Yahweh’s special stuff.

ANOINTING YOURSELF

Now depending on what version of the Bible you read, the term anoint might also be used to simply mean “put on some perfume”. In Ruth 3, Naomi is trying to help her widowed daughter-in-law get another husband. When a new potential husband is found, Naomi tells Ruth how to make a strategic approach.

“Wash yourself, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.” (Ruth 3:3)

Here “anoint yourself” just means “put on a nice perfume.” It has nothing to do with God.

ANOINTING KINGS

Now it was never Yahweh’s desire for Israel to have kings. He was her King, He communicated His will to her through prophets and priests, and she was supposed to be content with that. But of course she wasn’t because she wanted to be like the pagans around her who all had human kings. Disgusted with her infidelity, Yahweh agreed to give Israel human kings, then He chose the first one: a man named Saul. What better way to mark a man as God’s choice than to break out the anointing oil? At this point in Israel’s history, one of Yahweh’s best guys is a prophet named Samuel. After leading Samuel over to where Saul is, Yahweh instructs His prophet to break out the anointing oil.

Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on Saul’s head, kissed him and said, “Has not Yahweh anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:1)

To be publicly anointed by God was to be publicly chosen out by Him to do a particular work. It was a badge of honor, and once God says you’re His man, who will dare to mess with you? When people in the Church today tell you they’re anointed, what they’re trying to do is claim God’s special favor and approval. They’re trying to make you instantly put them on some kind of pedestal in your mind. Today we use the term “anointed” as a way of saying “God says you have to revere and obey me.” Well, no, this isn’t at all what God says. God says that you are to revere and obey HIM, not some pompous human who is lusting after glory and power.

The first king that God anointed over Israel was a total zero. Yahweh ended up so disgusted with Saul that He publicly disowned him, then He sent a demon to torment him day and night. So you see, having some special oil poured on your head isn’t a guarantee of anything. To be called by God to serve Him in some way is a great privilege. It is a great opportunity, but opportunities can be blown. Privileges can be squandered. God’s physical anointing does NOT guarantee His pleasure, approval, favor, protection, or anything else.

Now today we’re not living in ancient Bible times. In most countries today, it isn’t commonplace to go around drizzling oil on anything that inspires us. So the anointing that happens in the Church today is really a farce—it is a rip off of some other culture’s tradition. Leaders who put on some anointing show are just trying to capitalize on the fact that you don’t know your Old Testament. They know that to you “anointed” sounds like some sacred buzzword. They teach you to believe that there’s something powerful about copying traditions in the Bible without teaching you how meaningless those traditions were in their original context. Anointing the kings of Israel became a common practice, but many of the kings who became anointed were demon worshiping God haters. Was Yahweh really saying “I approve of these men” as the oil flowed down? Not hardly. Most of the anointing we find happening in the Bible was nothing more than cultural tradition. When God anointed David—a man who deeply loved Him—the anointing was a very special moment to David, because David sincerely cared about pleasing God and he wanted to make the most of the opportunity. But when the Jews poured oil on the heads of Baal worshiping creeps like King Ahab and his son King Ahaziah, God would have been sighing tiredly. In Bible times, anointing was just a way of setting some person or thing apart from the pack. It has never been a guarantee of God’s approval, nor was it a positive prediction about how well that individual would serve God in the future.

ANOINTING TODAY

Today Christians treat the Bible like a book of magical secrets. We’re shameless imitators of the occult, teaching each other that by quoting the right verses, we can make God do what we want. The famous book “The Prayer of Jabez” was a prime example of this. In that book, we were taught to keep praying the same passage of Scripture over and over again like some kind of powerful chant. We were taught that eventually God would just have to bless us because the prayer of Jabez was such a powerful spell. Utter hogwash. Yet the blasphemy continues as we not only turn verses into magical spells, but we also try to market cultural customs that we find in the Bible. In ancient times, oils like myrrh and frankincense were used for many different things. What exactly? Who cares? “It’s in the Bible.” That’s the only tagline manufacturers need to sell us all manner of useless items. Today you can find oils like myrrh and frankincense for sale in online Christian bookstores. What in the world are you going to do with a flask of myrrh? What are you going to do with a menorah when you’re not even Jewish? Who cares? “It’s in the Bible”, so that must mean it has power. “It’s in the Bible. It’s from the Holy Land. Jews do it.” Can we get any more ridiculous? Who cares what superstitious traditions people had centuries ago? Does God really need us to go around dabbing people with oil before He can work through them? Do we really think we can force God’s favor to fall upon us if we buy some vial of anointing oil online and dab it on ourselves? We wouldn’t even have anointing oil for sale in online Christian stores if Christians weren’t so hung up on trying to manipulate God.

We need to stop deluding ourselves about this anointing business. God exalts Himself, not pompous humans. When we go around claiming Divine approval that we don’t really have, and when we try to use ancient cultural customs to manipulate God’s people into exalting us and blindly accepting everything we say, we are only inciting His wrath against us. There is nothing God honoring about some human strutting about on stage saying, “I’m God’s anointed.” If being anointed actually meant what we pretend it means, we wouldn’t have to be constantly informing people of our anointed status. When God is speaking through someone, it’s obvious. When His power is on someone, it’s obvious. When someone is acting under His Authority and is backed by His support, it’s obvious. But when someone’s just obsessed with themselves and wanting you to play the part of their groveling, awestruck fan club, that’s when we start hearing that famous a-word. “I’m God’s anointed,” really means “I’ve decided I’m awesome and now I want you to agree with me.” “My message for you is anointed,” is code for “Stop thinking and let me ram this message from Satan down your throat.” “This ministry is anointed,” means “Give me your money.” Don’t be impressed by titles. People who flash titles in the Church have a superiority complex. Godly humility is a mindset which causes us to be sincerely repulsed by the exaltation of anyone other than God. Godly humility is the mark of a leader who is truly listening to God and you won’t find such a person boasting of their anointed state.

FURTHER READING:
Can Christian leaders claim special protection from God?
What is Humility?

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