FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 18, number 12, March 21, 2019
“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses.” -Numbers 12:1
Lifting Up Your Hand Against the Lord’s Anointed
Perhaps you have heard pastors or other Christian leaders from time to time say when they are facing great opposition in some aspect of their ministries, “You better stop criticizing me. Don’t you know you must never lift up your hand against the Lord’s anointed?” So if there is ever any pushback, criticism, charges, or challenges to an anointed leader’s position or person, then this is perceived as “lifting one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed.”
What exactly does that expression mean, “You must never lift your hand against the Lord’s anointed?” Does this mean you are never able to challenge an ordained minister of the gospel? If it does not mean this, then when is challenging a man of God allowable or permissible?
In verses 1 and 2 of Numbers 12 we find that Miriam, the sister of Moses, and Aaron, Moses’ brother, spoke against Moses. This word “spoke against” is quite vivid. It has the idea of harshness, backbiting, giving a bad report, all for the sake of bringing Moses down from his God ordained place of leadership.
After their effort at undermining Moses’ leadership, the text then gives us an ominous word, “And the Lord heard it.” God is omniscient. He knows all things. “Before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all,” (Psalm 139:4). Just the brief statement alone tells us all we need to know about how God feels about what is “going down” that very moment in the house of Israel. He is displeased. What happens, next, however leaves no doubt about God’s “take” on those who undermine the authority of His appointed leaders.
In verses 4-8 the text switches to Yahweh’s action against these rebels. Verse 4 tells us that Yahweh suddenly, abruptly, without warning told Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to meet Him at the tent of meeting, the Tabernacle. Verse 5 tells us that Yahweh came down into their midst in His Shekinah glory, a most awesome and fearful sight. Then Yahweh called Miriam and Aaron to come forward so that He could speak directly with them, separating Himself and these two rebels from Moses, His appointed leader.
Verses 9 and 10 tell us that the anger of Yahweh burned (an intense, holy, and just anger) against them and could have easily consumed them, just as Yahweh’s fire in Numbers 11 burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. God is holy, righteous, and good and will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. So after this altercation, Yahweh withdrew from the Shekinah glory before the tent of meeting. And when the cloud had withdrawn from their midst, behold Miriam was leprous. The Hebrew word we translate “behold” is a strong exclamation we find numerous times in the Bible. To see the leprous skin of Miriam was a dreadful and fearful sight. It appears that Miriam was the major player in the rebellion against Moses since she is the only one facing this outward discipline and chastisement. The text of verse 10 is very emphatic. Twice the word “behold” is used as we are told twice that Miriam has leprosy. Her skin is white as snow.
First, what does this mean, “the Lord’s anointed?” Secondly, what does it mean to lift one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed? Thirdly, is lifting up one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed ever justified? If not, why not? If so, then when?
Let’s take the first question, what does this mean, “the Lord’s anointed?” We know that the the prophets, priests, and kings in the Old Testament were all anointed with oil when they took their offices. There are many Old Testament references to this effect. Here are just a few of them. Kings were anointed regularly with oil in a symbolic gesture of authority being bestowed upon them. Saul was anointed king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). A few years later young David was anointed as king (1 Samuel 16:13). When Yahweh gives the prescription for tabernacle worship He requires the priests of God, who labor on behalf of Him and His people, to be anointed with oil (Exodus 28, 29:7). And prophets were also set aside by Yahweh by pouring oil on their heads (Isaiah 45:1, 61:1).
Secondly, to lift up one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed, in the Old Testament Biblical context, is to go against a king, prophet, or priest placed in that position by Yahweh Himself. Clearly this was true of Moses. He was God’s man, a prophet to lead his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Miriam and Aaron, in their pride and rebellion, were going against Moses, the God appointed and anointed prophet and leader of the people of God.
We can go further, in the New Testament Biblical context, to say that an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher-elder, or deacon are ordained by God, set aside by Him for a specific office in the church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11,12, Acts 6:1-7). So to lift up one’s hand against an elder, evangelist, or deacon is to undermine, sabotage, mitigate, or ruin the church officer’s position and person before the eyes of God, Christian people, and the lost people of the world.
But thirdly, we can now ask if it is ever justified to lift up one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed? Is it ever justified to speak against or work for the removal of men anointed by God to the office of pastor, elder, evangelist, or deacon? Well, let’s consider some Biblical data. Were there ever false prophets, priests, or kings in the nation of Israel? And if so, how were they dealt with? In Jeremiah 14:13ff false prophets were telling Judah that all was well with them, that the people would not see the sword or famine. But then Yahweh said to Jeremiah, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility, and the deception of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There shall be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword or famine those prophets shall meet their end,” (Jeremiah 14:13-15).
Then we find Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount declaring, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but the rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit. . . So then, you will know them by their fruits,” (Matthew 7:15-18,20).
So clearly there is a time to “lift up one’s hand against an anointed pastor, teacher, elder, evangelist, or deacon. To be specific, heresy must always be exposed and challenged. The church must never tolerate error in the church or ungodly behavior by church leaders. They are held to a higher standard, as James the apostle points out so well (James 3:1ff). That’s because false doctrine has serious consequences, ultimately sending the deceived to hell.
Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to himself and his teaching so that he may insure salvation not only for himself, but also for those who hear him preach and teach (1 Timothy 4:16). So the leader is to make sure his doctrine and life are above reproach. But what happens when the church leader is negligent in these two vital components of godly church leadership? First, we must always respect the office of evangelist, elder, or deacon. We may have real problems with an individual but the office itself is inviolate. Second, we must always go through the proper channels. Jesus in Matthew 18:15ff says that if someone sins against us then we are to go to that person and reprove him in private. If he listens to us, if he agrees with our assessment and is thus willing to repent or walk back what he said or did, then wonderful, praise the Lord! If however he is unwilling to repent then you should take at least one witness, one person who saw what you saw, and go to the person and reprove him again. If he still refuses to repent of this particular sin, then take it to the church. This means take it to the ruling body of the church which on the local level is the local church session, or board of elders. If nothing is done about your complaint or if the elders “blow off” your complaint or protest, then appeal to the Presbytery in which your congregation resides. If you still have no satisfaction concerning your complaint, then you may appeal to the highest court in your denomination. If you are a Presbyterian then that would mean you file your complaint with the General Assembly.
From time to time, when some have “blown the whistle” on a pastor, church, or seminary professor for his unbiblical position on some issue, some have criticized those making the charges, saying that they are guilty of bearing false witness, or not practicing Matthew 18. However in all these cases of which I am currently speaking, the information is publicly displayed everywhere. It is in their books, blogs, podcasts, radio programs, videos, and television programming. They are, shall we say, “open game.” By virtue of their public communication of their teaching, they are public figures and can be addressed publicly, in the open square, as it were.
Always pray for God to show the leader his error, that he will willingly repent. Be sure to practice Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 to get the log out of your own eye before you seek to labor in order to get the speck out of your brother’s eye. Search your own heart first and ask God to show you your sin. In other words, humble yourself before God and He will exalt you in the proper time. Never use ad hominem arguments. That is, never attack the person himself. Stay on the issues. State the facts. Document them well. Do not use vituperous, volatile, or contumacious arguments. Always be measured and respectful in your tone. Remember, your goal is restoration of the person to a more Biblical ethic and doctrine. Of course you must always be praying for God to intervene in the situation, and bring healing and restoration.