Psalm 2: God’s Son and Kiss the Son

What is the Jewish thought concerning God's son in light of Psalm 2? It describes someone as the King of Zion, a world leader, and says that God calls him His son, whom He gave birth to (v. 7). Further, verse 12 states, “Kiss the son, lest he angers and you will lose the way.” Isn’t it thus clear that God has a Divine Son?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your important question. The term son of God appears a number of times in the Torah where it clearly does not refer to a biological relationship. See for example Deuteronomy 14:1: "You [Israel] are sons to the Lord your God," as well as Exodus 4:22, where God tell Moses to tell Pharaoh "My son, My firstborn Israel" (Exodus 4:22). The meaning is that God has a special relationship with His nation, but clearly the bond is emotional and not physical.

The Torah likewise uses this expression for other great individuals. See for example Psalms 89:27-28 in reference to King David, and II Samuel 7:14 in reference to Solomon: “I will be to him as a Father and he will be to Me as a son.”

In this verse, the commentators understand God’s “son” as referring to King David himself (or possibly the future Messiah (Ibn Ezra)), who serves God with the filial devotion of a son honoring his father (Ibn Ezra, Radak), who represents and protects a nation known collectively as God’s son (Rashi, Metzudat David), or who leads the world as an (inheriting) son who controls his father’s property (Malbim).

The notion of God giving birth to him is that when David was appointed king, he acquired a divine spirit and close relationship with God, as a child of a parent (see I Samuel 16:13; Rashi, Radak), or that David was as precious to God as a newborn son (Metzudat David). (The Hebrew word in question – “yalad” – does not always mean to literally give birth, but is occasionally used figuratively (as in English), meaning to create or bring about. See for example Deut. 32:18, Job 15:35, Zephaniah 2:2, Isaiah 33:11, 55:10.)

In terms of “kiss the son” of verse 12, especially based on the commentators that the subject is King David himself, the phrase really does not impute any divine powers to David or to the Messiah. It just means that the nations should cherish and embrace the king – or risk God’s wrath.

In truth, however, almost all the commentators understand that phrase differently. The phrase in the Hebrew is “nashku var” (var is a variant of bar). The Hebrew word bar either means “grain” (such as the grain Joseph stored up in Egypt (Genesis 41:35,49)) – or “purity” (see e.g. Psalms 19:9, 24:4, Song of Songs 6:9-10). The commentators accordingly translate that phrase to mean “gird yourselves with purity of heart” (Rashi), “desire purity” (Rashi alternate, Metzudat David), or “kiss (i.e. cherish, cleave to) me because I am pure of heart” (Radak, Malbim).

(Note that the first word of the phrase – nashku – can mean either kiss or arm yourselves – both interpretations appearing in the choices above. There is even one interpretation which relates bar to grain – that the nations should cleave to the king as chaff is adjacent to (“kisses”) the grain (see Malbim).)

Note that in Hebrew, bar does not mean son, and thus almost none of the commentators (save Ibn Ezra) translate the phrase as “kiss the son.” The reason for the confusion is that in Aramaic “bar” does mean son. However, it is never used in that sense in the Torah. (And in fact Psalm 2 itself uses the Hebrew term “ben” in verse 7, which we discussed above.) Bar appears a few times in the Books of Ezra and Daniel (e.g. Ezra 5:1-2, 6:14, Daniel 3:25, 5:22, 7:13) – but all in the parts of those books written in Aramaic.

The one exception is Proverbs 31:2, where the word bar does appear meaning son: “What, my son, and what, the son of my womb…” However, Rabbi Tovia Singer suggests that King Solomon was quoting the advice his mother would give him, very likely using the language she employed. Thus, that verse uses a more colloquial term for son, possibly based on the Aramaic, but not used anywhere else in (the Hebrew portions of) the Torah.

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