David Calls Upon the Nations to Trust in the LORD
Thus far in our study of this psalm we have seen how David contemplated the rebellion of the nations against the LORD and His Messiah (vss. 1-3), then how he described the LORD Himself speaking of His Messiah (vss. 4-6), and then how he began to relate the words of God the Son Himself as He declared the decree of the Father concerning His role as Messiah (vs. 7, vss. 8-9). Then, in the last post, we began our examination of David’s concluding words (vss. 10-11), in which he challenges those who have rebelled against the rule of the LORD and His Messiah to repent. Remember that we saw how his words are intended for everyone, for all the nations.
Introduction: Over the centuries there have been many ways in which people have payed homage to kings and rulers. Examples would include such actions as the bow or the curtsy, but they would also include such actions as kissing the ring of a ruler. In fact, this manner of showing respect is also practiced by those who pay homage to the Roman Catholic Pope. In the passage before us today we shall see that, in ancient Israel, the practice of kissing a king or ruler, apparently on the cheek, was also such a means of paying homage. Consider, for example, the manner in which Samuel payed homage to Saul upon anointing him as the ling of Israel:
NKJ 1 Samuel 10:1 Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his [Saul’s] head, and kissed [נָשַׁק] him and said: “Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance?”
Now, this kiss was not simply a greeting, since Samuel had already been with Saul for some time. Nor was it simply a show of affection. It was, rather, a sign of respect and of support for Saul as the new king. Such is the action commanded by the LORD through the Prophet David in this psalm, as we see in the first part of verse 12.
NKJ Psalm 2:12a Kiss [נָשַׁק, NASB = do homage to] the Son [בַּר],
This is a literal translation of the Hebrew text, and it is rendered this way in the ESV and NIV translations as well. However, some of you may have versions that translate this command differently. For example, the Christian Standard Bible says, “Pay homage to the Son,” and the NASB says, “Do homage to the Son.” They adopt this translation because they obviously see the act of kissing the Son, who has been identified earlier in the psalm as the LORD’s anointed King, as an act of homage to Him as such. I essentially agree with this interpretation, of course, but I would observe that it is the role of a translation to offer just that, a translation, rather than an interpretation, especially when the translation makes perfectly good sense in our own language. On this point I agree with the old rule of textual scholar Bruce Metzger, who said that translation should be “as literal as possible, as free as necessary.”
At any rate, I do think that the point of the kiss here is to pay homage to the Son as the divinely anointed King. But I would add that there is not only a note of respect but also an element of submission, as well as devotion, intended in the command to “kiss the Son.” Consider, for example, the function of the kiss in a couple of other Old Testament examples. The first concerns what the LORD said to Elijah after he had fled from the wrath of Jezebel:
NKJ 1 Kings 19:18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed [נָשַׁק] him.
Here the kiss was clearly a sign both of submission and devotion.
The second example is the Lord’s description of the idolatry of the Israelites who were deserving of His judgment:
NKJ Hosea 13:2 Now they sin more and more, And have made for themselves molded images, Idols of their silver, according to their skill; All of it is the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss [נָשַׁק] the calves!”
The calves referred to here are, of course, the molded images or idols being described in the preceding sentence. Images of calves were apparently some of the more popular idols in and around the land of Canaan in those days. As the ESV Study Bible notes observe:
The excavations at Ashkelon have uncovered an example of calf worship in a sanctuary from the sixteenth century b.c. A small, solid bronze calf was discovered, and around it were remains of a pottery shrine that housed the calf. Calf worship, of course, was a problem throughout the history of Israel (see Exodus 32[:1-5]; 1 Kings 12[:26-30]). (BibleWorks)
At any rate, we may see from this passage that kissing the idol was a way to pay homage but also to show submission and devotion to the false god represented by the idol. Here in Psalm 2, then, the command to kiss the Son is a command to submit to His rule and be devoted to Him, and failure to do so will have consequences. Before we look at those consequences, however, it is worth noting that the word translated Son here is not the Hebrew word that is commonly used throughout the Old Testament. That word is bēn, and it is the word that was used earlier in the psalm where David wrote about the Son’s declaration of the Father’s decree concerning His role as our Messiah:
NKJ Psalm 2:7 I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son [בֵּן, bēn] Today I have begotten You.”
As I have said, the word translated Son in verse 7 is bēn, but this is not the word found here in verse 12. The word used here is actually the Aramaic word bar. It is what linguists refer to as a loanword. That is, it is a word borrowed from another language and used without translation. In this case, it is probably used instead of the usual Hebrew word due to the fact that David is addressing the neighboring nations here. So, he uses a word with which they would be more familair. The use of such a loanword should not surprise us, though, since we have many such words in our language as well. For example, we have words borrowed from the French language such as chef or entrepreneur; from Spanish such as armada or guitar; or from German such as delicatessen or kindergarten. These are just a few of the many, many loanwords in English from other languages, and this is somewhat typical of most languages spoken by people who often interact with neighboring peoples who speak different languages. The only difference here in Psalm 2 is that the Aramaic loanword was not very often used by the Jews, as are the examples I’ve given of loanwords in our own language.
Anyway, although we do not notice the loanword in English here in Psalm 2, because we translate both the Hebrew and the Aramaic words as son, the original readers would have noticed it and would no doubt have grasped its significance. They would have seen how David adopted the language of the neighboring peoples in order to show that the coming Son was as much their Messiah as He was the Messiah of the Jewish people.
But, getting back to the flow of the verse, David has just given the command to “kiss the Son,” indicating the need to submit to His rule and be devoted to Him, but he goes on to speak of the consequences of failing to do so.
NKJ Psalm 2:12b lest [פֶּן] He be angry [אָנֵף], And you perish [אָבַד] in the way [דֶּרֶךְ],
Remember that the Father has already promised the Son that He would rule the nations when He said:
NKJ Psalm 2:8-9 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Here we find that those who do not submit to Hus rule will incur His wrath and that, as a result, they will perish.
Now, when David says that the people of the nations should “kiss the Son, lest He be angry,” it is uncertain as to whether the pronoun he refers to the Son or to the LORD, who would be God the Father. When we read this line with the preceding sentence, this ambiguity is more clearly seen:
NKJ Psalm 2:11-12b Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way ….
So, does the pronoun he refer back to the LORD, which would mean that the nations should submit to the Son lest God the Father become angry? Or does the pronoun he refer back to the Son, which would mean that the nations should submit to the Son lest He himself become angry? Frankly, I’m not certain as to whom the pronoun refers here, although I lean slightly in favor of it’s referring to the Son, since He is the nearest referent in the passage. At any rate, I’m not sure it makes a great deal of difference given that in either case the passage is referring to the anger of God against unrepentant sinners.
We know that David is referring to unrepentant sinners, because in the context he has spoken of the nations as rebelling against the rule of the LORD and His Messiah (vss. 1-3), and because he warns them here that, if they do not submit to the Son – who is the Messiah – then they will perish “in the way.” But what does he mean when he speaks of “the way’? In my view he means that they will perish in the way of rebellion that they have chosen. I’m convinced that the term is being used here in the same figurative sense in which it was used in the first psalm:
NKJ Psalm 1:6 For the LORD knows the way [דֶּרֶךְ] of the righteous, But the way [דֶּרֶךְ] of the ungodly shall perish [אָבַד].
Such will be the fate of those how continue in unrepentant rebellion against the LORD and against the Son. They will perish. But David does not say how they will perish. Beyond this general language he doesn’t describe their fate at all. Apparently only this much had been revealed to him, although we now know more than he did, since God has revealed more to us over time. For example, we have the teachings of our Lord Jesus who spoke of hell as the final place of judgment and described it as an everlasting fire, such as when He told us that He would say to the wicked in the day of judgment, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). “These,” He said, “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
Such will be the fierceness of God’s wrath, about which David goes on to speak figuratively as burning against unrepentant sinners.
NKJ Psalm 2:12c When His wrath [אַף] is kindled [בָּעַר, burn] but a little [מְעַט, or a little time, i.e. soon, quickly].
There are two ways to understand David’s use of figurative language here, when he describes the wrath of God as being “kindled but a little.” He either means that His wrath will cause sinners to perish when it is kindled but a little bit, as the New King James Version understands the Hebrew text, or he means that God’s wrath will cause them to perish when it is kindled but a little time, as the ESV understands the Hebrew text when it says that “his wrath is quickly kindled.” The NASB takes the same approach when it says that “His wrath may soon be kindled.”
It is once again difficult to decide between the two interpretive options here. It is either a warning that even a small degree of God’s wrath is enough to bring destruction on unrepentant sinners, or it is a warning that the time for repentance may be short and that God’s wrath may come upon them sooner than they expect. Surely both ideas are true, and, no matter which way we understand it, the experience of God’s wrath is a certainty for those who do not submit to the Son and devote themselves to Him as their sovereign Lord. This means that they must trust in Him, looking to Him for salvation from the judgment they so richly deserve. This is what is implied in this warning to repent while there is time, but it is made more explicit in the final sentence of the psalm, which turns from a warning of judgment to a promise of blessing for those who submit to the Son as they ought.
NKJ Psalm 2:12d Blessed [אֶ֫שֶׁר, or happy] are all those who put their trust [חָסָה, lit. take refuge, as in ESV and NASB] in Him.
Most versions translate this line a bit more literally, as does the ESV:
ESV Psalm 2:12d Blessed are all who take refuge in him. [Italics mine.]
As Derek Kidner has observed, “there is no refuge from Him: only in him” (TOTC, p. 53). But, of course, those who take refuge in the Son are also putting their trust in Him, as the New King James Version puts it. And thus they are blessed.
Now, some modern versions translate the Hebrew word esher as happy rather than blessed, and that is a good translation so long as one remembers that the term actually has more to do with the happy state we are in rather than with the way we feel, and this is due to the benefits bestowed upon us by God in His grace. So, sometimes we may not feel emotionally happy despite the state of grace we are in, but the fact still remains that we are in such a state of grace. This is why many versions prefer the word blessed as a translation, since it also emphasizes the idea that the happy state we find ourselves in is due to the gracious working of God rather than our own efforts.
Conclusion: And what a fitting way to end this psalm! David, writing as a Prophet of God, has called upon all people everywhere to “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (vs. 11), and now he tells us the source of our rejoicing. It is found in the gracious blessing of God, who offers salvation from His judgment and wrath to all who submit in devotion to His Son, whom we know to be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As James Montgomery Boice has admonished us in his commentary on this psalm:
… chiefly they are to “kiss the Son” in grateful, loving submission. That is what these rulers will not do, of course. It is why they are in danger of a final, fierce destruction. Make sure you are not among them. The rulers of the world rage against Christ. But why should you? The hands he holds forth for you to kiss are hands that were pierced by nails when he was crucified in your place. One day he is coming as the great judge of all. On that day the wicked will be punished, but today is the day of his grace. He invites you to come to him. The final verse says, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” It is a reminder that the only refuge from the wrath of God is God’s mercy unfolded at the cross of Jesus Christ. (Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 27)
I pray that all who have read this post (or, hopfefully, this series), and who have not yet trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior will do so today. And I pray that those of us who have already sought refuge in Him will come away with renewed joy, knowing that He has saved us by His grace. May we sincerely say with the Apostle Paul:
NKJ Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.