“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Psalm 2:12, KJV)
The KJV translates “נשׁקו־בר (nashku bar)” as “kiss the son”. The meaning of the verb “נשׁקו (nashku)” is not so much in dispute. “Kiss” is the literal translation (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions) and “do homage” is a paraphrase of “kiss”. The idea is that kissing demonstrates the subject’s reverence towards the master. The KJV keeps the literal rendering.
“Son” fits the context
The bigger issue is whether “בר (bar)” should be translated “Son”. The normal Hebrew word for “son” is “בנ (ben)”. “בר (bar)” means “son” in Aramaic (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). The word for “pure” in Hebrew is “בר (bar)” (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). That is why some translations have “Do homage in purity” at Psalm 2:12. However, “בר (bar)” is used to mean “son” in Proverbs 31:2 (“What, my son [ברי]? and what, the son [בר] of my womb? and what, the son [בר] of my vows?”), so it is possible for the Aramaic word to be used in Hebrew poetry.
At this point, some critics allege that “בר (bar)” is in the construct (possessive) state, which would be translated “son of” as in Proverbs 31:2. It is alleged that the word must be in the emphatic state, “ברא (b’ra)”, to justify the translation as “the Son”. However, there are two problems with this allegation. One is that in the Targums “the construct state is occasionally used for the emphatic” (An Aramaic Method: A Class Book for the Study of The Elements of Aramaic, Part II: Elements of Grammar, Charles Rufus Brown (Chicago : American Publication Society of Hebrew, 1886), p. 89)
The second problem with this allegation is that the Aramaic of Psalm 2 may be very old (certainly being older than the Targums). Given that the emphatic state is unique to Aramaic among the Semitic languages, it is reasonable to suppose that it is a more recent feature of Aramaic. It may well be that at the time of Psalm 2 there was no such feature, or perhaps it was expressed by a vowel. This original lack of the emphatic state may have survived as a vestige in the occasional Targum uses where the emphatic does not appear where it should.
Given that the focus of Psalm 2 is on the coming Messiah (“his anointed” (verse 2), “my king” (verse 6), “my Son” (verse 7)), it seems appropriate in the climactic conclusion for the psalmist to command the people to revere this Messiah. Also, the Psalm begins with the people rebelling against the LORD “and against his anointed” (verse 2). A complete resolution requires the Psalm to conclude not only with the command to “Serve the LORD” (verse 11) but also with the command to revere his anointed – that is, to “Kiss the Son” (verse 12).
Reason for the switch from “בנ (ben)” to “בר (bar)”
Despite “Kiss the Son” fitting the context of the Psalm, critics argue that the context does not warrant the importation of this Aramaic word. The Hebrew word for “son”, “בנ (ben)”, is used in the very same Psalm at verse 7 (“Thou art my Son….”). These critics see no reason for the immediate switch from using the Hebrew word to the Aramaic word.
The reason for the switch may be due to:
- the shift of audience;
- the shift in geography;
- the chronology of the narrative.
Verse 7 is spoken by the LORD to his Son. This is the God of Israel speaking to an Israelite Son. The audience, being an Israelite Son, is addressed as “Son” in the Hebrew language. Verse 12, however, is spoken to Gentiles. The Psalm begins with a question relating to the rebellion of the Gentiles (“heathen”, translated from “גוים (goyim)” is the same word for Gentiles). Verse 10 refers to judges “of the earth” and therefore the admonition in verse 12 to “Kiss the Son” is given to these Gentiles. The Gentiles nearest to the psalmist were the Chaldeans who spoke Aramaic. To these Gentiles, this reverent individual is addressed as “Son” in the Aramaic language.
The Psalm also emphasizes the contrast between Zion and the uttermost parts of the earth. Verse 6 says “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” This coming Messiah is not just a generic ruler of the world. He has his roots in Israel, has a Hebrew character, and speaks the Hebrew language. He is the “בנ (ben)” of Israel’s God. Then verse 8 says “…I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Here the focus shifts, or rather grows, from the locality of Israel to the entire globe. This coming Messiah is therefore no longer a local king of Israel. He is the “בר (bar)” of earth’s God. Thus the identification of the “Son” as either in the local language or in the lingua franca depends on the geographic context of the verse.
This second Psalm is indisputably loaded with theology. It speaks of soteriology, Trinitarianism, and eschatology. The shifting use of the words for “son” might have its significance in the Psalm’s insights with respect to the chronology of redemptive history. In Christ’s first coming, he was hailed by some as the king of the Jews. In his second coming, he will be hailed as the king of the entire world. The events of verse 9 definitely take place at the time of Christ’s second coming. At this time, he will be addressed in English as the “Son” of God, in Spanish as the “Hijo” of God, in French as the “fils” of God, and by the resurrected Aramaic speaking saints as the “בר (bar)” of God. The historical chronology of the shifting identity of the Son from Jewish to international is mirrored by the Psalm’s shift in the identification of the “Son” from “בנ (ben)” first to “בר (bar)” in the end.