Summary: David will not harm "The Lord’s Anointed." This actually speaks to how we treat one another in Church.
’I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’
The story up to now…
In the beginning of 1 Samuel, Israel cry out to Samuel to give them a king so that they can be like all the other nations – God gives them Saul – who looks great, and is great, for a while. Then it becomes obvious that Saul’s loyalties are divided between pleasing God and pleasing the people. Soon, God becomes merely a tool for holding on to power and pleasing the people for Saul.
God finally gives up on Saul, removes his Spirit from him and gets Samuel to anoint David to be king. David does not start a revolution, but goes back to tending sheep. He is soon taken into Saul’s service, first as a musician in his court, and then, after killing the giant Goliath, as a warrior.
God favours David, and he has great success in battle – Saul is really pleased with his young musician/warrior until the women start singing more songs about David than about Saul. Saul become Jealous of David and adds to it paranoia about David stealing the kingdom from him. He sends David on more and more dangerous missions, hoping that the Philistines will kill him, but God always protects David and gives him the victory. Of course, David becomes even more famous because of this, and Saul becomes more jealous and paranoid.
A couple of times, while David is playing the harp for Saul in the court, Saul is so enraged that he tries to pin David to the wall with his spear. David stays with Saul until Saul sends a hit squad to David’s house. Then he goes on the run, hiding from Saul.
Saul becomes obsesses with killing David – he kills priests and whole towns that help David, at every rumour of David’s location, Saul sets out to chase him down and kill him.
Twice, God puts Saul at David’s mercy, but David refuses to take the advantage and kill his adversary.
Read 1 Samuel 24
In 1 Samuel 26, David and Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp while everyone is sleeping – they take Saul’s spear and the water jug that is sitting at his head. Then they climb the hill opposite the camp and call down to Saul and his men to prove once again that he has no intention of killing Saul. He again uses the words, “The LORD delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.” - 1 Samuel 26:23
“I would not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed”
- out of relationship with God, not fear or love of Saul
There have been people who have applied this concept to people in church leadership who have had moral failure. The church won’t fire them because they will “not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.”
It’s actually badly applied for a few reasons – one is that leaders actually have biblical requirements for lifestyle –they are requirements that all Christians should live up to, but if a leader is not living up to them, they should be removed from leadership.
Second, being anointed as King over Israel is different from being a leader in a church – we’ll see how it is better applied in a moment.
While I have heard of people who use this concept not to deal appropriately with fallen leaders, what I hear about more often is people who ignore the idea all together and attack their leaders at every opportunity.