Anointing itself is a concept that encompasses more than just the single word, and so it is appropriate to consider the notion more broadly than just “he who is anointed.” It begins as a tradition for the consecration of physical objects—Jacob anoints an altar he makes to God in Genesis1—the rules for which are articulated in the Mosaic Law in Exodus 30. As the Torah progresses, priests are anointed2, and Longman tells us that “we come to the conclusion that one who is anointed is set apart for special service to God.”3
Soon, however, we see a radical shift in the use of the root word MSH, and a move “from the realm of the cult to the realm of the court” brings us to a setting where almost all anointing has to do with setting aside the Jewish monarch.4 This practice was most likely adopted by the Israelites from the inhabitants of Canaan.5 Perhaps the most famous account of a kingly anointing is Samuel finding David amongst all of Jesse’s sons in 1 Samuel 16: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.”6
Though we see here the authoritative equivalent of crowning, the most important element of the account is the second clause—“from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” Anointing, then, means not just a consecration or a setting apart, but a legitimate divine transfer of authority and power. Whereas the anointments of objects might have constituted more of a dedication or sacrificial purpose, the anointments of the priests and kings we see in the Torah and the Writings are clear demonstrations of divine license.
Moreover, anointment serves as a reminder of God’s covenants, first with the priests who would preserve the Law and practice, and then with the kings who would lay claim to the Davidic covenant laid out in 2 Samuel 7:
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.7
Our first major hurdle comes in deciding what the long-term implications of God’s covenant and anointment are. Though this covenant promises that the line of David will endure “forever,” there is still no real sense from it that there will be one messianic figure at the end of time, as Christians view Jesus. That is, the key promise of the Davidic line here seems to be a series of normal, mortal kings and seems to take place in “simple time” rather than in apocalyptic “eschatological time.”8
1 Genesis 31:13
2 Exodus 28:41, Leviticus 5, Numbers 3:3
3 Longman, Tremper. “The Messiah: Explorations in the Law and Writings.” The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments. Ed. Stanley Porter. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. 15
4 Longman 16
5 Mowinckel, Sigmund. He that Cometh. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005. 5
6 1 Samuel 16:13
7 2 Samuel 7:11-16
8 Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 2. Ed. Richard C. Martin. Ed. Balz, Horst and Gerhard Schneider. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1991. 481.