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Teachings

The Outcry – Psalm 2, Part 7 © Johannes Gerloff

Johannes Gerloff - 28 September 2019

The Anointed Servant of the Lord in Psalm 2 does not accept the terrible task of smashing the nations with an iron rod (verse 9), without emotions. He cries out: “Be reasonable, kings! Be warned, judges of the earth” (verse 10).Messiah calls upon the mighty of the world: „Aim your reason for this, bring this to your understanding!“[1] He asks them to hold on and to show intelligence and discernment.[2]

Historically, Radak[3]assigns this statement to David, the son of Ishai, who called this out one thousand years before our era to the Philistine kings who had assembled to fight against him. However, this call to accept reason in the face of the living God pervades the millennia into the present time wherever the people of Israel have fulfilled their prophetic calling. Rashi[4] remarks at this point: “The prophets of Israel are merciful people. They exhort the nations of the world to depart from their wickedness, because the Holy One, blessed be He, extends His hand to the evil and the righteous alike.”

Prophets who were connected to the heartbeat of their God never surrendered without contradiction to an announcement of judgment. Fatalism is alien to biblical revelation. Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah and Daniel are but a few for whom a word of judgment was the occasion to contradict God, to negotiate with Him. The foremost task of a prophet has always been the intercession before God and then, quite naturally, the pleading call to repentance to those whom judgment threatens. Even today, rabbis assume that only the good promises of God are incontrovertible. When God predicts evil, misfortune is not inevitable. God is always open to consider the repentance of a sinner and is even ready to change His mind.

Abraham Ibn Ezra[5] observes the poetic structure of Ps 2 stating: “The ‘Be reasonable!’ [in verse 10] stands opposite to the ‘Against the Lord’ [in verse 2].” The “judges” are “parallel to the ‘kings’ because, in fact, the king’s main task was to judge the people.”[6]

Samson Raphael Hirsch[7], who in his interpretations in a unique way is able to shine many subtleties of the Hebrew language, here also draws attention to intertwining within this psalm which can only be understood in Hebrew: The “הִוָּסְרוּ” (hivasru), “ Be warned!” is to be understood as: “Submit yourselves to the מוסר (musar), instruction and discipline”.[8] And Ibn Ezra observes that the “הִוָּסְרוּ” (hivasru) is the opposite of “their bonds” (מֹוסְרֹותֵימֹו, mosrotemo), which the Gentile nations and their rulers seek to throw away in verse 3.

The message of this psalm is poetically woven into the choice of vocabulary and the use of the word roots. He shows through sound-like and related words that “repentance” is a deliberate about-face, a conscious turn against the current with which one has previously swum. Such a U-turn is even able to change an established and publicly proclaimed decision of God Himself.

Amos Hakham[9] emphasizes: “Even though the Lord has given authority to [the messianic Servant of the Lord] to destroy [the rebellious nations], he has no pleasure in their demise. Rather, he wants them to go the right way.”[10]The God of Israel seeks the insight, the repentance and the healing of the one who has gone astray. Biblical prophecy is always a call to repentance. Therefore, in Scripture the forecasts of judgment are never unconditional and irreversible.

This heartbeat of God and His confidants is already audible in the first words of Ps 2. Luther writes: “For the prophet too, as though he were deeply sorry for their iniquity, starts with a question, namely: ‘Why do they rage?’ Why do they expose themselves as object of mockery? Why do these fools intend impossible things? Oh, that they would come to their senses and become wise.”[11] And Radak paraphrases the basic message of the psalmist: “Realize that you have not the slightest chance to reverse the doing of God. He commanded me to be king. How can you turn ‘against the Lord’? Come to your senses! Take it to heart! For you cannot thwart the work of the Lord.”

Martin Luther furthermore observes the moral courage of the Messiah: “How bold and how – as we might say nowadays – agitating and infuriating is this exceedingly insolent prophet, who puts his mouth in the sky, daring to attack not the lowest and the common people but the highest heads and even kings, to teach those who are bumptious by their title and office as teachers of the people, and certainly because of the custom and the honor which they deserve according to their delusion (opinionis honore) may not suffer this exceedingly great insult.”[12]

Serve the Lord with fear”, the Anointed One of Israel challenges those nations who are united against the Lord: “Rejoice with trembling!” (verse 11). Align your plans with His will, “want what He wants and serve Him! Fear Him and know that He is entitled to power and might, and not you who assembled with a large crowd” (Radak).

Luther dares to object: “That is a strange saying and in our eyes weird. For fear causes hatred and fleeing, not service (famulatum), and trembling is totally contrary to the joy.”[13] But as contradictory as this may seem to modern man, Paul already knew: “His compassion for you is overwhelming, when he thinks of all your obedience, as you have received him with fear and trembling” (2 Cor 7:15). And Rashi recalls Isa 33:14, which also talks of a trembling that seizes the apostates. Ultimately, this fear leads to cheers and joy, “if your service is to the Lord.” In an excellent way Hirsch sums up this spiritual principle: “The Gila [= joy] that grows of Reada [= fear and trembling] and is based on Reada is the highest bliss, of which a creature that is talented with awareness before its Creator, of which a human being is capable before his God.”[14]

The psalmist pleads: First, “Come to your senses!” (verse 10); second, “serve the Lord” (verse 11) – and third, “Kiss the ‘Bar’ (בַר)” (verse 12a).

Hakham[15] begins his reflections on these words with the statement: This is “a very sealed speech”. Who is the “Bar” (בַר)? And what does it mean to kiss him? “To kiss is equivalent to do homage. Samuel kisses Saul (1 Sam. x. 1), saying that thereby he does homage to him.”[16] In Acts 10:25-26 the Roman centurion Cornelius falls to the ground before Peter when he enters his house in Caesarea, paying homage to him, worshipping him. Radak commenting on Ps 2:12a recalls the ancient custom of slaves kissing their master’s hand.

“Kissing an idol meant acknowledging its deity,” Amos Hakham makes an effort for an interpretation with reference to Hos 13:2 and Job 31:27. But then he admits himself: “There is no image of the God of Israel that might be kissed.” Thus, he concludes: “Therefore ‘Kiss Bar’ is to be interpreted according to Ps 18:21. There it says, ‘According to the purity of my hands (כְּבֹר יָדַי, kevor yadai) reward me.” ‘Bar’ (בר) is written in Hebrew exactly in the same way as the word ‘purity’ (בר, bor) in Ps 18:21. Hakham finally decides: ‘Kiss Bar’ is to be interpreted as “‘kiss purity’, because in worship there is no room for a real kiss, but only for a symbolic kiss, in order to adhere to purity.”[17]

In these statements, the Israeli exegete Amos Hakham follows a broad tradition of interpretation, which can be traced back both in Judaism and Christianity. Hirsch explains “בר [bar], from ברר [barar], the pure”.[18] Radak makes a connection to Ps 73, where the psalmist Asaph begins by saying that “God is only good for Israel, [namely] for those who are of a pure heart (לְבָרֵ֥י לֵבָֽב).”

Martin Luther points out that “Jerome had translated in the Hebrew Psalter: Worship in a pure way, because בר [bar] also means pure and chosen.” “In the Vulgate, this passage reads: Apprehendite disciplinam ne quando irascatur dominus, et pereatis de via justa, that is: Acquire discipline so that the Lord will not even be angry, and you will perish from the right way.” However, the German reformer and translator of Scripture must then admit himself, that nowhere “בר [bar] is said to designate ‘discipline’.”[19]

The British exegete Derek Kidner wants to understand the word “bar” as an adverb and translates the first two Hebrew words of verse 12 “kiss sincerely’, i.e., ‘pay true homage’” – then, however, he himself points to the fact, that the “son” had already been mentioned in verses 7ff. and that the use of this title undoubtedly has its implications here.[20]

Hakham recalls exegetes of Scripture who derive the word “to kiss” (נשק, nashaq) from “economy” (משק, mesheq). This could then lead to a rendering, which claims a sacrifice or tribute for the King of Israel as a sign of subjection on the part of the Gentile nations.[21]

Ibn Ezra derives the request “kiss” (נשקו, nashqu) from the Hebrew word for “weapon” (נשק, nesheq) and suggests: “That would then mean: put on the weapons of the son, that is, pure weapons”. Inevitably, this medieval Spanish linguist and interpreter of Scripture thus returns again to “בר, bar” as “ברי-לבב, barei levav”, that is, those who are of “purity in heart”.

Following Burgensis and Lyra, Luther[22] originally had translated Ps 2,12a: “Kiss the Son, that He may not be furious and you may perish on the way.” He also refers to Jerome for this translation, who “says in his little interpretation (commentariolo) thus: In Hebrew you read: Nescu bar, which may be rendered as: Worship the Son, because bar also means a son. Therefore, Simon bar Johanna is called in the Evangelio [Mt 16:17] ‘Jonah’s Son’, and bar Ptolemaeus the son of Ptolemy, Barnabas is the son of a prophet, and so on.” “‘Kissing’, however, they explain as paying homage, so that the meaning is: ‘Kiss the Son’, i.e., receive with honor and humility the King and Lord Christ.”

There are interpreters who are against this translation for grammatical reasons.[23] However, it is Ibn Ezra who points to the fact, that in terms of content the “serve the Lord” (verse 11) corresponds with the “against the Lord” (verse 2), as likewise the “kiss the son” corresponds with “against his Anointed One”. And Radak explains, that “bar” “is to be understood like ‘ben’ [son], as it is written in Prov 31:2: “What, my son (בְּרִי, beri), what, son of my womb (בַּר־בִּטְנִי, bar-bitni), what, son of my vows (בַּר־נְדָרָי, bar-nedarai) [shall I tell you?!].” Obviously in this Hebrew text the word “בר, bar” is used three times meaning “son.”

Radak then paraphrases the statement of the messianic personality in Ps 2:12 as follows: “What do you have against me? I am pure-hearted. There is no fault in me that you come to me and fight against me. Instead, you should kiss me, pay homage to me, and acknowledge gratefully, that I am king by order of God.”

That the Gentile nations, rebelling against the living God and His Messiah, are called upon to kiss the Son, may be acceptable on some of the hermeneutical levels explained at the beginning of this interpretation of Ps 2.[24] But does that apply to all suggested levels?

It is conceivable that the Philistines should have had to pay homage to King David at the beginning of the first millennium BC. Similarly, that the Gentiles had to submit to the Judean king. For Christians, it is also comprehensible that Ps 2:12 describes the worship of the Christ Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name all knees shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Every tongue, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Greek Philippi, will once confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). But does this “kiss the Son” also apply to Israel as Son of God? Does this even apply to the relationship of Gentile nations with the Jewish people? May it even be giving a guideline for the attitude of the Christian church towards the nation of Israel?

A similar picture like the “נַשְּׁקוּ־בַר, nashqu-bar” (“Kiss the son”) of Ps 2:12 can be found in Isa 49:23. There Gentile peoples and their kings and queens come and fall down before Israel. The Prophet foresees: “With their nose on the ground, they worship you and lick the dust of your feet.” The consequence of this attitude and behavior of Gentile believers in the God of Israel on the side of the Jewish people will be: “There you will realize: I am the Lord. Whosoever hopes for me will not be ashamed.”

Let us recall the above-mentioned encounter of Peter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10:25-26). Peter raises the Roman up from the ground and declares: “Get up for I am just human being, too.” This does not mean that Cornelius did wrong. It merely emphasizes how the behavior of the God-fearing Roman towards the Jewish apostle had to be interpreted. Jesus did not consider it a thing to be grasped to be like God, but took the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7). This self-denial of our Lord does not negate our position towards Him. It does not make our submission to Him and worship of Him obsolete. The same applies to the humility of Peter and the position of Cornelius towards him. Even if it is hard to justify it grammatically, the content of Luther’s translation from 1984 is perhaps not so wrong after all by rendering our passage with “and kiss his feet with trembling”.

Could it be that we as non-Jews are being called upon in Ps 2:12 to pay homage to the Jewish people, “to kiss” them, “to lick their feet”? And maybe we should do that, not because we idolize some human beings. But simply because we take seriously God’s choice, His plan and the salvation-historical causal relationships that His word reveal to us?! And maybe we should behave like that because we care about the relationship between the people of Israel and the God of Israel; because we long to see Israel “to know” that the Lord is God. Maybe that should be more important to us than being right or respected or honored?

Perhaps we should also allow Israel the weight, the honor, the state given to it by the living God Himself, “lest He be angry” and we “perish on the way” (Ps 2:12b-c). For the living God, whose nature and character we have come to know a little in this psalm, is a holy God who “cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap.” This is not a statement about an “Old Testament God” whose wrathful nature has been “surmounted” on Golgotha. This statement was written by Paul to Gentile believers in Yeshua who lived in Galatia in Asia Minor (Gal 6:7). “For his wrath is kindled shortly” (Ps 2:12d) – and will spread rapidly “like a fire devouring a parched forest on the edge of the Mediterranean” (Ibn Ezra).

Footnotes:

[1] Samson Raphael Hirsch, Psalmen (Basel: Verlag Morascha, 2. Neubearbeitete Auflage 2005), 11.

[2] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Psalms 1-35, Commentary on the Old Testament vol.5/1. Translated by Francis Bolton (Peabody, Massachusetts/USA: Hendrickson Publishers, February 1989), 97.

[3] Rabbi David Ben Yosef Kimchi (1160-1235), the so-called “Radak”, was the first among the great exegetes and grammarians of the Hebrew language. He was born in Narbonne, southern France. His father died early, so David was brought up by his brother Moshe Kimchi. Radak allowed philosophical studies only to those whose faith in God and the fear of heaven were firmly established. Publicly he dealt with Christians and attacked primarily their allegorical interpretation of Scripture and the theological claim to be the “true Israel”.

[4] Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzchak (1040-1105) or “Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki,” commonly called “Rashi,” was born in the northern French town of Troyes, studied for ten years in Mainz and Worms, before he returned to Troyes, where he distinguished himself as a judge and teacher. In his last years he witnessed the persecution of Jews during the Crusades. Rashi is one of the extraordinary interpreters of Jewish writings and the very first who explained the Bible and the Talmud comprehensively. His basic concerns were to bring Holy Scripture to the people, to promote the unity of the Jewish people and the theological confrontation with Christianity. Raschi made a sharp distinction between “pshat” (literal interpretation) and “drash” (allegorical interpretation), whereby the pshat gives the rash. His interpretation of Scripture has decisively shaped the reformer Martin Luther. Although his comments are still standard today, he often writes “I do not know”.

[5] Rabbi Avraham Ben Me’ir Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) is one of the outstanding poets, linguists, interpreters of Scripture and philosophers of the Middle Ages. He came from Toledo in then Muslim Spain. Long journeys took him all over North Africa and up to the Land of Israel. He wrote almost all of his books during the last 24 years of his life. While fleeing Muslim persecution of the Jews, he toured Christian Europe at this time. In 1161 his track is lost in French Narbonne. It is known that he died in January 1164. It is unknown where this happened. Rome, Spain or even England are up for debate. As an outspoken rationalist, Ibn Ezra was the first to question Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch. However, he believed in the prophetic significance of astrological phenomena – something which Rambam firmly rejected as idol worship. Since his works are written in Hebrew, he made accessible to European Jewry the intellectual wealth of oriental-Jewish scriptural interpretation, which is largely handed down in Arabic. Of particular value are his exact grammatical studies, always seeking the original, literal meaning of the text.

[6] עמוס חכם, ספר תהלים, ספרים ג-ה, מזמורים עג-קן (ירושלים: הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, הדפסה שישית תש”ן/1990), ח.

[7] Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) came from Hamburg and served as Chief Rabbi in Oldenburg, Aurich, Osnabrück, Moravia and Austrian Silesia. As a distinguished representative of Orthodoxy, he was an outspoken opponent of reformist and conservative Judaism. Hirsch attached great importance to the study of all Scripture. From 1851 he was rabbi of the separatist Orthodox „Israelitischen Religions-Gesellschaft“ (“Israelite Religious Society”), engaged in education and published the monthly magazine “Jeschurun”. Hirsch had a great love for the land of Israel, was at the same time, however, an opponent of the proto-Zionist activities of Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. He is seen as one of the founding fathers of the neo-orthodox movement.

[8] Samson Raphael Hirsch, Psalmen (Basel: Verlag Morascha, 2. Neubearbeitete Auflage 2005), 11.

[9] Amos Hakham (1921-2012) became known in Israel as champion of the first Israeli and worldwide Bible quiz. His handicapped father, Noah Hakham, was a Jewish Bible teacher who had moved from Vienna to Jerusalem in 1913. He had not sent the only son to a public school for fear of a speech impediment. Rather, he himself had trained him in extremely poor conditions. The Bible quiz in August 1958 revealed Amos’ genius and established his legendary career as interpreter of Scripture. His expositions are only available to me in Hebrew.

[10] עמוס חכם, ספר תהלים, ספרים ג-ה, מזמורים עג-קן (ירושלים: הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, הדפסה שישית תש”ן/1990), ח.

[11] Johann Georg Walch (hg.), Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften. Vierter Band. Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Fortsetzung). Auslegung über die Psalmen (Groß Oesingen: Verlag der Lutherischen Buchhandlung Heinrich Harms, 2. Auflage, 1880-1910), 258.

[12] Johann Georg Walch (hg.), Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften. Vierter Band. Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Fortsetzung). Auslegung über die Psalmen (Groß Oesingen: Verlag der Lutherischen Buchhandlung Heinrich Harms, 2. Auflage, 1880-1910), 287-288.

[13] Johann Georg Walch (hg.), Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften. Vierter Band. Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Fortsetzung). Auslegung über die Psalmen (Groß Oesingen: Verlag der Lutherischen Buchhandlung Heinrich Harms, 2. Auflage, 1880-1910), 292.

[14] Samson Raphael Hirsch, Psalmen (Basel: Verlag Morascha, 2. Neubearbeitete Auflage 2005), 12.

[15] עמוס חכם, ספר תהלים, ספרים א-ב, מזמורים א-עב (ירושלים: הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, הדפסה שביעית תש”ן/1990), ח.

[16] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Psalms 1-35, Commentary on the Old Testament vol.5/1. Translated by Francis Bolton (Peabody, Massachusetts/USA: Hendrickson Publishers, February 1989), 98.

[17] עמוס חכם, ספר תהלים, ספרים א-ב, מזמורים א-עב (ירושלים: הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, הדפסה שביעית תש”ן/1990), ח-ט.

[18] Samson Raphael Hirsch, Psalmen (Basel: Verlag Morascha, 2. Neubearbeitete Auflage 2005), 12.

[19] Johann Georg Walch (hg.), Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften. Vierter Band. Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Fortsetzung). Auslegung über die Psalmen (Groß Oesingen: Verlag der Lutherischen Buchhandlung Heinrich Harms, 2. Auflage, 1880-1910), 295 fn. 1.

[20] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72. An Introduction & Commentary, TOTC (Leicester/England and Downers Grove, Illinois/USA: Inter-Varsity, 1973), 53.

[21] עמוס חכם, ספר תהלים, ספרים א-ב, מזמורים א-עב (ירושלים: הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, הדפסה שביעית תש”ן/1990), ט.

[22] Johann Georg Walch (hg.), Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften. Vierter Band. Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Fortsetzung). Auslegung über die Psalmen (Groß Oesingen: Verlag der Lutherischen Buchhandlung Heinrich Harms, 2. Auflage, 1880-1910), 295-297.

[23] As, for example, Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72. An Introduction & Commentary, TOTC (Leicester/England and Downers Grove, Illinois/USA: Inter-Varsity, 1973), 53, who observes that “the definite article is lacking, and ‘kiss son’ would be as awkward in Hebrew as in English. Further, it is in Aramaic that this word bar means ‘son’.”

[24] Compare “Fascinating Colorful. Psalm 2 – Part One (Introduction)” https://gerloff.co.il/english/article-detail/?id=359.

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