Theocratic Anointing

The Holy Spirit is often overshadowed in the minds of people by the grand displays of deity like the numerous theophanies and Christophanies of the Old Testament and the arrival of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God, in the New Testament.  The reality is that the Holy Spirit is fully deity and his presence or empowerment is a manifestation of the power of God.  Most Christians are aware of the expansive and significant New Testament role of the Holy Spirit in the world and the Christian.  However, his role in the Old Testament is often misunderstood, misconstrued, or misinterpreted.  One specific ministry that mainly falls under this category is what Bookman calls “Theocratic Anointing. ”Theocratic Anointing needs to be considered in light of the Old Testament and the life of Jesus.  Hermeneutical errors and misapplication to the Christian life can be avoided with proper contextual understanding. Theocratic Anointing is a ministry of the Holy Spirit by which special empowerments were given to specific individuals to accomplish particular tasks within the context of the theocratic kingdom of Israel.  The ministry of Theocratic Anointing would find its culmination with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. 

What is Theocratic Anointing?

God reigned over the people of Israel and led them on their way in manifestations like the pillar of cloud and fire (Ex.13:17-22).  Additionally, the Lord would utilize leaders who would become his mouthpiece and “go-between” with the people.  The first instance of this would be seen in Moses being called at the burning bush (Ex.3), and Moses would ultimately lead the people out of Egypt and continue in this role until his death.  McClain writes, “it well represented the primitive theocracy of Israel; it was the direct rule of God over his people through his designated representative.”

The method by which God prepared individuals for the tasks of a theocratic government was through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit utilizing Theocratic Anointing.  The idea of Theocratic Anointing is the Lord choosing and empowering an individual to lead His people or to accomplish specific tasks.  The Holy Spirit would empower individuals to prepare them for specific circumstances, ruling functions, mediations, wisdom, and other physical labors.  Such empowerment should never be confused for spiritual health, character, maturity, or salvation as the Theocratic Anointing is exclusive to the tasks of Theocratic Ruling and not related to any spiritual condition. The empowerment provided by the Holy Spirit was essential in the function of the theocracy because sinful humans lacked the ability to lead God’s people properly or craft the holy things of the Tabernacle and Temple.  

Theocratic Anointing is provisional, which means that it can be changed, altered, or removed at any time as the Spirit deems fit.  Moses rebelled against the Spirit (Ps. 106:33), the craftsmen were temporarily enabled to build the intricate and holy pieces of the tabernacle and the temple (Exod. 31:3-5; cf. 28:3; 31:6-11; 35:31-35; Neh. 9:20; Isa. 63:11), the Anointing was removed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14), and David feared the removal of the Spirit (Ps. 51:11).  The Theocratic Anointing deals explicitly with the physical areas of representation of God to the people and specific tasks. However, the empowerment is not to be taken as indicative of gained or lost salvation, nor does it have a bearing on spiritual matters in general.  Theocratic Anointing empowers the recipient to accomplish physical tasks on behalf of the Lord regarding the Theocratic Kingdom.  The particular ministry of Theocratic Anointing can be seen throughout the Old Testament from Moses through the prophets and ultimately culminating in the Theocratic Anointing of Jesus in the Jordan River. 

Theocratic Anointing is Not New Testament Indwelling

            Theocratic Anointing and the New Testament Indwelling of the Holy Spirit are entirely different ministries.  While the Holy Spirit accomplishes both, Theocratic Anointing is unique to the effective period of the Mosaic Law, from Moses to Jesus; therefore, no confusion or cross-application is to be taken.  Theocratic Anointing is meant to be temporary and utilized for particular jobs, while the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit is meant to be permanent and utilized in the exclusive context of believers (Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim.1:14).  These two ministries of the Holy Spirit are incompatible and are crucially distinct.  Realizing this vital distinction helps the reader and interpreter avoid soteriological mistakes, among others, concerning Theocratic Anointing.  David’s prayer in Psalm 51:11 is an excellent example of the distinction between these ministries and the error of misunderstanding Theocratic Anointing and New Testament Indwelling.

Removal of the Holy Spirit:  Unfit for Service or Loss of Salvation?

David’s sin with Bathsheeba and pleading with the Lord not to remove the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with soteriology. However, it is specifically regarding the failures of kings who ruled without theocratic Anointing. Bookman points to David having been an eyewitness to these events of Saul pursuing David, trying to kill David and the other failures of Saul’s “sinning away” the Theocratic Anointing.  After the exposure of his sin, David repents and pleads with God to not deprive him of the Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11, 12; cf. Ps 139:7; 143:10).  While there would be consequences for David, he would remain the king under God.  In light of the immediate context concerning Theocratic Anointing and briefly examining David’s prayer in Psalm 51:11, Theocratic Anointing has nothing to do with salvation. Therefore it cannot be applied as a doctrine of soteriology in any form.  The concern for the loss of salvation is mitigated through the appropriate context, which frees the interpreter and student of Scripture to examine the history of Theocratic Anointing.

The History of Theocratic Anointing Before the Monarchy

            Moses was the first recorded recipient of Theocratic Anointing based on the appointment of 70 elders (Num. 11:17-25), and he later rebelled against the Spirit (Num.20:1-13).  While not recorded that the Spirit departed from him, this action would result in his loss of the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-13).  Joshua would receive the Anointing (Deut.34:9; Josh. 1:5) and “was full of the spirit of wisdom and there is no account of Joshua losing the Anointing during his tenure as leader. Theocratic Anointing was bestowed upon those who built the tabernacle, temple, and their respective accouterments (Exod. 31:3-5; cf. 28:3; 31:6-11; 35:31-35; Neh. 9:20; Isa. 63:11).  If Bookman’s statement is to be considered that, “those men [Israel] had lived their entire lives as slaves; they evidently possessed no skill other than making mud bricks.  However, the Lord filled them with ‘the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship… then this physical outworking of Theocratic Anointing can be utilized in others besides leaders, rulers, kings, or prophets.  It also explains why the builders could touch the ark and not be immediately struck down, unlike Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:7). 

The period of the Judges would see the Lord continuing to empower men and women through the Holy Spirit, sometimes despite the individual’s moral character like Jephthah (Judges 11:29) and Samson (Judges 13:25; 15:14).  While only four specific judges are explicitly mentioned to have received this Anointing, it would be safe to assume that they all were recipients of Theocratic Anointing due to the nature and role of the judges.  The potential recipients of the Theocratic Anointing could both lose and regain, as with Sampson, but is still privy to the will and purpose of the Holy Spirit.  The time of the Judges was unique because God was the king (Judg.8:23; 1 Sam. 12:12), but the people would demand a monarch to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:20; 10:19) and summarily reject God as their king.  While they had rejected Yahweh as their king, he would continue to shepherd and guide his people, and the Theocratic Anointing would still be utilized for the Monarchy.

The History of Theocratic Anointing During the Monarchy

The transition to the Monarchy brought along the Theocratic Anointing of the Holy Spirit for the king specifically.  God continued the Theocratic Anointing for others besides the king, as he did with the craftsmen for the tabernacle and would for the temple and the prophets. The primary focus was the chosen king under the theocracy.  Saul would receive the Anointing (1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6) but would ultimately see the Spirit withdrawn and given to David (1 Sam. 16:13-14).  When Solomon becomes king, it is not beyond the scope of Theocratic Anointing to assume that he received the same anointment as previous kings had.  The wisdom that Solomon received more than likely was a result of Theocratic Anointment due to being utilized for reigning over the people and the administrative nature of the Theocratic Anointing (1 Kings 3:7-12). However, Solomon’s Theocratic Anointing is implied at best.

After the Monarchy divided, explicit mentions of Theocratic Anointing are seen for prophets (2 Chr. 15:1; Dan 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11, 14; Neh. 9:30; Zech. 7:12) and priests and Levites (2 Chr. 20:14; 24:20). As long as the theocracy was maintained and there were theocratic purposes, the ministry of Theocratic Anointing would need to continue with the appropriate lineage of the Judean king.  The line of the Judean kings would culminate with the Lord Jesus Christ, who would permanently sit on David’s throne and receive the final allotment of Theocratic Anointment.

Jesus:  The Final-Recipient of Theocratic Anointing

            The Old Testament contained prophecies of the Spirit’s Anointing coming on the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-2; 61:1). These prophecies are explicit regarding the Holy Spirit’s role in the Messiah, and these roles shown are seen in the Theocratic Anointing.  The life and ministry of Jesus are not meant to be seen as separate from the Old Testament nor as part of the New Testament.  Jesus came under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law (Galatians 4:4), which means that the ministry of Theocratic Anointing would still be taking place as the Spirit saw fit.  Being a descendant of David, according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), Jesus was destined to sit on the throne of David (Psalm 110:1; Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30).  The Theocratic Anointing of Jesus took place during his baptism at the Jordan River (Matt. 3:16; 4:1), and he would be the final recipient of Theocratic Anointing.  Through his fulfillment of the law, establishing the Church, and removing central worship location and items, the tasks that Theocratic Anointing was meant for were no longer necessary. The Spirit’s ministries in the Church would become the norm but not limited to permanent indwelling.

The idea of theocratic Anointing is the Lord choosing and empowering an individual to lead His people or to accomplish specific tasks.  An individual who received Theocratic Anointing, such as Saul, David, Sampson, and others, would be set apart by God and enabled to fulfill their duties.  The Theocratic Anointing has nothing to do with spiritual condition, as seen with Saul, salvation, or the New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Since it has nothing to do with salvation or indwelling, the principle of Theocratic Anointing cannot be utilized to say that believers can lose their salvation.  Theocratic Anointing was also utilized beyond prophets and kings.  With the strict laws and importance of the worship elements of Israel, e.g., the tabernacle and its items, how then did workers construct it?  How did people sew the veil, build the ark of the covenant, and all of the other implements?  God enabled and set them apart to accomplish this task through the Spirit’s ministry of Theocratic Anointment. The Theocratic Anointing is a ministry of the Holy Spirit by which special empowerments were given to specific individuals to accomplish particular tasks within the context of the theocratic kingdom of Israel and culminating with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in redemptive history creates understanding and avoids making errors of application for Christians.  Seeing Theocratic Anointing as a unique ministry for the extent of the Mosaic Law gives cause for praise and honor to God for his guidance, among other things, and avoiding dangerous hermeneutical errors for the Christian.  Theocratic Anointing was a means of God’s grace through the working of the Holy Spirit to allow sinful human beings to serve him within the context of the Old Testament.

Special thanks to these resources for information in writing this article

Bookman, Doug. “The Old Testament ‘Theocratic Anointing’ of the Holy Spirit.” The Rabbit Trail: The Official Blog of Bookman Ministries. Posted February 27, 2009. Accessed June 5, 2021.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology, Second Edition: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020.

McClain, Alva J. The Greatness of the Kingdom: An Inductive Study of the Kingdom of God. Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1968.

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