The Psalms are brimming with messianic prophecy from beginning to end. Psalm 2 is no exception, and is a Coronation Psalm of the Messianic King. It opens,

לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם וּ֝לְאֻמִּים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃ יִתְיַצְּבוּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶרֶץ וְרוֹזְנִים

נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָחַד עַל־יי וְעַל־מְשִׁיחוֹ׃

“Why do nations assemble, and peoples plot vain things; kings of the earth take their stand, and regents intrigue together against HaShem and against His Messiah?”
Psalm 2:1-2 

Rashi, R’ Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105CE), comments,

רבותינו דרשו את הענין על מלך המשיח ולפי משמעו יהיה נכון לפותרו על דוד עצמו

“Our Sages (Ber. 7b) expounded the passage as referring to the King Messiah, but according to its apparent meaning, it is proper to interpret it as referring to David himself…”
Rashi on Psalm 2:1, cited at Chabad.org [1]

As we have explained, David HaMelech is the prototype of the Mashiach, and what applies to David applies to Messiah. Verse 7 speaks of the Mashiach as the Son,

אֲסַפְּרָה אֶל חֹק יי אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲנִ֗י הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ׃

“Let me tell of the decree: HaShem said to me, “You are my son, I have begotten you this day.”
Psalm 2:7

Rashi elucidates the passage,

ראש לישראל הקרוין בתורה בני בכורי והם יתקיימו על ידך כמו שנאמר באבנר (שם ב ג) כה אמר ה’ ביד דוד עבדי אושיע את עמי ישראל ובשבילם אתה לפני כבן שכולם תלויין בך:…להיות קרוי בני וחביב עלי כבן בשבילם כמו שנאמר (דברי הימים א י״ד:ב׳) וידע דוד כי הכינו ה’ למלך על ישראל וכי נשאת מלכותו בעבור עמו ישראל ומצינו במלכי ישראל החביבין לפניו שקרוין בנים כמו שנאמר (ש”ב כז) בשלמה הוא יהיה לי לבן ואני אהיה לו לאב ועוד מצינו בדוד במזמור פ”ט הוא יקראני אבי אתה אלי וצור ישועתי:

“You are My son: The head over Israel, who are called “My firstborn son.” And they will endure through you, as is stated concerning Abner (II Sam. 3:18): “for God said, etc., ‘By the hand of My bondsman David shall I deliver… Israel.’” And for their sake, you are before Me as a son because they are all dependent upon you….

begotten you: to be called My son and to be beloved to Me as a son for their sake, as it is stated (II Sam. 7:14) concerning Solomon: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to Me a son.” We find further concerning David (Ps. 89:27) “He shall call Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”
Rashi on Psalm 2:7, cited at Chabad.org [2]

The Talmud says,

תנו רבנן משיח בן דוד שעתיד להגלות במהרה בימינו אומר לו הקב”ה שאל ממני דבר ואתן לך שנאמר (תהלים ב, ז) אספרה אל חוק וגו’ אני היום ילדתיך (תהלים ב, ח) שאל ממני ואתנה גוים נחלתך וכיון שראה משיח בן יוסף שנהרג אומר לפניו רבש”ע איני מבקש ממך אלא חיים אומר לו חיים עד שלא אמרת כבר התנבא עליך דוד אביך שנאמר (Psalms 21:5) חיים שאל ממך נתתה לו וגו’

“The Sages taught: To Messiah ben David, who is destined to be revealed swiftly in our time, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: Ask of Me anything and I will give you whatever you wish, as it is stated: “I will tell of the decree; the Lord said unto me: You are My son, this day have I begotten you, ask of Me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession” (Psalms 2:7-8). Once the Messiah ben David saw Messiah ben Yosef, who was killed, he says to the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, I ask of you only life; that I will not suffer the same fate. The Holy One, Blessed be He, says to him: Life? Even before you stated this request, your father, David, already prophesied about you with regard to this matter precisely, as it is stated: “He asked life of You, You gave it to him; even length of days for ever and ever” (Psalms 21:5).”
Sukkah 52a, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org [3]


NASHKU VAR

Aside from the Christian interpretation of the word יְלִדְתִּיךָ (yelid’ticha, begotten), Jews and Christians are in general agreement with the translation and overall meaning of the Psalm. However, in verse 12, controversy erupts between missionaries and anti-missionaries, based on the words נַשּׁקוּ־בַר (nashku var) translated in the King James Version as follows,

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry…”
Psalm 2:12, King James Version

And in Jewish translations as,

Do homage in purity, lest He be angry…”
Psalms 2:12, Old JPS, cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Noach 19:3

Which is the correct translation? Do Christian translations “paint Jesus into the Tanakh” as is alleged? How is it possible that two totally divergent translations can arise from two simple Hebrew words? While the Hebrew word “neshikah” means kiss, and is related to nashku, let’s investigate what Rashi says on this verse,

זרזו עצמכם בבר לב

“Arm yourselves with purity of the heart.”
Rashi on Psalm 2:11, cited at Chabad.org [4]

The Chizkuni, R’ Hezekiah ben Manoach (13th century), wrote a commentary that will help elucidate Rashi’s interpretation of “arm yourselves”,

“…although the word נשק appears primarily as meaning “to kiss,” it is also the same word (as a noun) meaning neshek, “weapons,” in the sense of the equipment needed for survival, as we know from Psalms 2,12: נשקו בר, “gird yourselves.”
Chizkuni, Genesis 31:28, Sefaria.org [5]

So, the Hebrew can mean ‘kiss’, ‘do homage’ or to ‘arm oneself’. In this case, usually, both sides will claim that the other side is lying, concealing and mistranslating the passage, while even alleging nefarious motives. However, this is a complete oversimplification. The Tanakh is not one-dimensional. It is far more sophisticated than what missionaries read in the King James Version, and much more nuanced than what anti-missionaries claim. If we were to find an interpretation from a kosher Jewish source in favor of translating it as “kiss the son” then the entire argument of anti-missionaries would be invalidated. But do such interpretations exist?

SEVENTY FACES

The Rabbis teach,

שבעים פנים לתורה
Shivim Panim l’Torah
There are Seventy Faces to the Torah
Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16

Each pasuk, verse, in the Bible is akin to a multi-faceted diamond, when turned, flashes green fire in one direction, and red fire in the other. Oftentimes, the meaning of a verse can depend on the level or perspective your are looking at it from. There are four levels of the Torah, called PaRDeS, the origin of the “Paradise”, which forms a notarikon, an acrostic for,

  • Peshat – פשט – Literal
  • Remez – רמז – Hint
  • Drash – דרש – Sermon
  • Sod – סוד – Secret

On the Peshat level, the meaning of the Hebrew in Psalm 2 is clear. The word in Hebrew for “bar” means purity. It literally means, “do homage in purity.” 1 Samuel speaks of the anointing of King Shaul who receives homage as follows,

“Shmuel took a flask of oil and poured some on Shaul’s head and kissed him, and said, “HaShem herewith anoints you ruler over His own people.”
1 Samuel 10:1

The Hebrew word for ‘son’ is ‘ben’ and was utilized just a few verses earlier, in verse 7 (beni atah, you are my son). However, in Aramaic, the translation of “bar” would yield ‘son’. Would it make sense to translate this Hebrew word into Aramaic as son in the peshat level? Possibly yes, as Biblical scholar Peter C. Cragie has suggested, bar should be read as ‘son’ as this verse is directed toward the nations [6], which is in harmony with the entire theme of the song for the nations to obey the Son. The Artscroll Psalms follows Metsudos in translating nashku var as “yearn for purity” but agrees that this passage is directed toward the nations,

12. נשקו בר. Yearn for purity. [David offers a final word of advice to the nations on how to accustom themselves to loving that which is good.”
Kesuvim/The Writings: Psalms, with a commentary anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings, Commentary to the Psalm 2:12, Mesorah Publications, ltd., pg. 9

The Targum interprets “bar” as referring ‘instruction’,

“Accept instruction lest He be angry, and you lose your way; for His wrath will tarry a little. Happy all who trust in His Word!”
Aramaic Targum to Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org [7]

The Talmud follows suit, identifying this ‘instruction’ as the Torah, which is ‘pure’, 

“And bar is referring to nothing other than Torah, as it is stated: “Pay homage to bar lest He be angry” (Psalms 2:12), i.e., observe the Torah to avoid God’s wrath.”
Sanhedrin 92a, Sefaria.org [8]

Returning to the concept of ‘son’, the Ibn Ezra (R’ Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, 1089 – 1167 CE) reads the passage as follows,

“Kiss the son – Behold and serve the Lord in contrast to. . .Kiss the son against his anointed; and behold the interpretation ‘How pure and also how pure my insides’ (Proverbs 31:2); and it is also written ‘you are my son.’ It is a custom in the nations of the world to place their hands under the hand of the king as the brother of Solomon or the slave under the thigh of his master or to kiss the king. This is the custom in India to this day.”
Ibn Ezra on Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org [9]

The Radak, R’ David Kimchi (1160 – 1235CE), rejects the Christian theology connected to the passage, yet nevertheless explains,

“Kiss the son: – as (in the verse) “and he kissed all his brethren” (Gen. 45:15). And (the word) בר (bar) is the same as בן (ben); and so “What, my son (בני)? “; and “what, O son (בר) of my womb?” (Prov. 31:2). Or it may be interpreted by “the pure (ברי) of heart” (Ps. 73:1). If its meaning is “son,” this will be its interpretation: Kiss this son whom God has called “son,” as He says (above): You are My son. And the command is Kiss, because it is the custom for a servant to kiss the hand of the master. And if its meaning is “pure,” its interpretation is, “What have I to do with you, for I am pure in heart and there is no wickedness in me that ye should come and fight against me? Your duty is to kiss me and to confess that I am king by the command of God.” And בר may also be fittingly interpreted from (the verse) “Choose (ברו) you a man for you” (1 Sam. 17:8), upon the analogy of “Saul the chosen of the Lord” (2 Sam. 21:6).”
Radak on Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org [10]

The Midrash Tehillim interprets this passage as “son”, referring to Israel,

“[In another comment the verse is read ‘Do homage to the Son’] (Ps. 2:12). What parable fits here? That of a king who became angry at the inhabitants of a certain city, and the inhabitants of the city went and pleaded with the king’s son to mollify the king. So he went and mollified his father. . . the inhabitants of the city were about to sing of homage to the king. But the king said to them: “Is it to me that you would sing a song of homage? Go and sing the song of homage to my son: Had it not been for him, I would long ago have destroyed the inhabitants of this city.” Likewise, when the peoples of the earth…will be about to sing a song of homage to the Holy One, blessed be He, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say: “Is it to Me that you would sing a song of homage? Go and sing it to Israel. Had it not been for them, the earth would not have endured for a single hour…”
Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 2:12, translated by William Braude, Yale University Press pg. 47

The Zohar says beautifully,

“What is his name, and what is the name of his son, if you know? (Proverbs 30:4). That name is well-known: YKVK Tseva’ot is His Name (Isaiah 47:4). The name of his son – Israel is His name, as it is written: ‘My son, My firstborn, is Israel’ (Exodus 4:22). All the keys of faith dangle from this Israel, and He glorifies Himself, saying, “YKVK said to me, “You are My son’ (Psalm 2:7). Certainly so, for Father and Mother have crowned Him and blessed Him with many blessings, and commanded all: Kiss the son (ibid., 12) – kiss the hand of this Son. He has, as it were, been given dominion over all, so that all will serve Him…All blessings of above and below reach this Son, adorning Him, and whoever withholds blessings from this Son will have his sins specified before the Holy King – לאם (la-’em) to the Mother, really!”
Zohar 3:191b, Yanuqa, translated by Daniel C. Matt, Pritzker Edition, pg. 292

So, ultimately, both translations – ‘do homage in purity’ and ‘kiss the son’ are correct, depending on the perspective you are viewing the verse from. The Hebrew language is a multi-dimensional spectrum of colors, while translations collapse the possibilities into a rigid state. The Talmud says,

ר’ יהודה אומר המתרגם פסוק כצורתו הרי זה בדאי והמוסיף עליו הרי זה מחרף ומגדף

“Rabbi Yehuda says: One who translates a verse literally is a liar, since he distorts the meaning of the text, and conversely, one who adds his own translation is tantamount to one who curses and blasphemes God.”
Kiddushin 49a, The William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria.org [11]

This statement of the Talmud sounds harsh, but the point is that no language can capture the Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy language of Hebrew. The real question is why anti-missionaries oversimplify the issue. They know that many Christians do not read Hebrew, and are ill-prepared to answer the objection. However, this is the real-life equivalent of a straw man argument. The possibilities appear two-fold: A)  Either anti-missionaries do not know the interpretations of the Rabbis, Midrash and Zohar that reveal a more nuanced interpretation, or B) they know, and don’t say, as the sources remove the force of their argument. Either option underscores the need for truth to rise in the discussions surrounding Yeshua the King Messiah.

Rebbe Nachman takes Psalm 2:7 into a personal inward direction, 

“In reality there is no such thing as time. Time is only an illusion…Our notions of time are pure illusion. Someone who thinks about this carefully will certainly put all his strength into abandoning the vanities of this time-bound existence and putting all his hope in that which is beyond time. You should have faith in the One who is beyond time. Then nothing in this world can throw you down. Wherever you are, you will always be able to remind yourself, “This day have I given birth to you” (Ps. 2:7). These words refer to Mashiach who is in a realm beyond time. There everything finds healing. Time past is annulled completely.. . There is only today. Today you were born. Literally! All that is wrong with the world is a part of the “Evil work that is done beneath the sun” in the time-bound world. . . what remedy is there for all the days and years, all the time that [one] wasted in wrongdoing? His only hope is in the realm beyond time. From there comes all healing. It will be as if he were born again today. So long as you have faith – in God, in the World to Come, and in the Messiah who is beyond time – you have eternal hope.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Meshivat Nefesh, Restore My Soul, Translated by Avraham Greenbaum, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 88-89

The Zohar says of the Ra’aya Mehemna (Aramaic for ‘The Faithful Shepherd’), Moshe, who is the prototype for Mashiach,

בְּהַהוּא זִמְנָא אָתָא קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וְנָשִׁיק לֵיהּ, וְאָמַר, רַעְיָא מְהֵימָנָא, וַדַאי אַנְתְּ הוּא בְּרָא דִּילִי, וְדִשְׁכִינְתָּא. רַבָּנָן וּמַלְאָכִין נַשְּׁקוּ בַּר קָמוּ כֻּלְּהוּ וְנַשְּׁקוּ לֵיהּ, וְקַבִּילוּ לֵיהּ לְרַב וּמַלְכָּא עָלַיְיהוּ

“At that time the Holy One, blessed be He came to him, kissed him, and He said, Faithful Shepherd, you are indeed My son and the son of the Shechinah. Sages and angels, kiss the son. They all rose and kissed him and accepted him as a Rabbi and king over them.”
Zohar, Ki Tetze, Volume 22, Kabbalah Centre International Inc., pg. 272


REFERENCES

  1. Rashi on Psalm 2:1, cited at Chabad.org
  2. Ibid
  3. Sukkah 52a, The William Davidson Talmud Sefaria.org
  4. Rashi on Psalm 2:1, cited at Chabad.org
  5. Chizkuni, Genesis 31:28, Sefaria.org
  6. Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, pg. 64
  7. Aramaic Targum to Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org
  8. Sanhedrin 92a, Sefaria.org
  9. Ibn Ezra on Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org
  10. Radak on Psalm 2:12, Sefaria.org
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