Uncertain Hebrew Phrase
Jewish scholars state the meaning of the phrase נשקו־בר, which the OP states means yearn for purity or kiss the son as in the NIV and others, is uncertain:
d pay homage in good faith,d lest He be angered, and your way be doomed in the mere flash of His anger. Happy are all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 2:12 Tanakh 1985)
פן־יאנף ותאבדו דרך כי־יבער כמעט אפו אשרי כל־חוסי בו d נשקו־בר d
d-d Meaning of Heb. uncertain
The JPS renders the phrase pay homage in good faith; the failure to find either purity or son in the phrase is a reflection of its uncertainty. In the Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler comment on this:
As noted, the translation in good faith is uncertain. The Heb. word "bar" can also mean "son," especially in Aramaic, and this has sometimes been connected to the divinely adopted son ("ben") in v. 7.
Often times the Septuagint, likely the earliest translation helps to shed light on the original intent and offers an understanding apart from any Christian influence:
Seize upon instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and you will perish from the righteous way, when his anger quickly blazes out. Happy are all who trust in him. (LXX-Psalm 2:12 NET)
Arguably, "seize upon instruction lest the Lord..." reflects the Torah bias of the Second Temple period by placing an emphasis on "instruction" which is not present. The LXX rendering is not Biblically incorrect; it is just not one present in this specific phrase.
An early Christian translation and commentary by Jerome affirms the uncertainty:
Jerome was acquainted with the translation Worship the son, but rejected it as doubtful. The passage in his treatise against Ruffinus (i. 19) deserves quotation. He had been charged with inconsistency for translating Worship purely (adorate pure) in his Psalter, though he had given Worship the son (adorate filium) in his Commentary. After discussing the possible meanings of the words he concludes thus: “Why am I to blame, if I have given different translations of an ambiguous word? and while in my short commentary where there is opportunity for discussion I had said Worship the Son, in the text itself, to avoid all appearance of forced interpretation, and to leave no opening for Jewish cavils, I have said, Worship purely, or choicely; as Aquila also and Symmachus have translated it.”
He describes the term as ambiguous which he rendered "worship purely" and knew "worship the son" was possible. Thus, there is good historical evidence to support contemporary scholarship which maintains the meaning is uncertain.
The NIV Translation
While the phrase is uncertain even the LXX understands the Psalmist has some instruction in view:
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (NIV)
The NIV Study Bible gives an explanation for this translation:
2:12 Kiss. As a sign of submission (see 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18; Hosea 13:2; see also note on Genesis 41:40). Submission to an Assyrian king was expressed by kissing his feet. he...his...him. Most likely the reference is to "the LORD" (v. 11), who anointed "the Son."
Understanding בר as "son" makes for a logical progression: son...he will be angry...his wrath...refuge in him. It may be argued this reflects a Christian bias, yet בר is "son" in Proverbs 31:2, where the son is, or will be a king. In addition, the use of a single Aramaic word in the midst of Hebrew is found in Genesis 31:47.
Therefore, the NIV position is one in which the meaning is consistent with another accepted use of בר as a royal son
5, the complete verse, and entire Psalm (see below).
bar as Aramaic
The rendering of son effectively reads the consonants בר as בַ֡ר (Aramaic for son) rather than as בַּר (Hebrew for clean or pure). The NET translation is similar to that of the JPS and includes a note to explain the decision not to use son:
Give sincere homage.33 Otherwise he will be angry, and you will die because of your behavior, when his anger quickly ignites. How blessed are all who take shelter in him!
33 tn Traditionally, “kiss the son” (KJV). But בַּר (bar) is the Aramaic word for “son,” not the Hebrew. For this reason many regard the reading as suspect. Some propose emendations of vv. 11b-12a. One of the more popular proposals is to read בִּרְעָדָה נַשְּׁקוּ לְרַגְלָיו (birʿadah nashqu lraglayv, “in trembling kiss his feet”). It makes better sense to understand בַּר (bar) as an adjective meaning “pure” (see Pss 24:4; 73:1 and BDB 141 s.v. בַּר 3) functioning here in an adverbial sense. If read this way, then the syntactical structure of exhortation (imperative followed by adverbial modifier) corresponds to the two preceding lines (see v. 11). The verb נָשַׁק (nashaq, “kiss”) refers metonymically to showing homage (see 1 Sam 10:1; Hos 13:2). The exhortation in v. 12a advocates a genuine expression of allegiance and warns against insincerity. When swearing allegiance, vassal kings would sometimes do so insincerely, with the intent of rebelling when the time was right. The so-called “Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon” also warn against such an attitude. In this treaty the vassal is told: “If you, as you stand on the soil where this oath [is sworn], swear the oath with your words and lips [only], do not swear with your entire heart, do not transmit it to your sons who will live after this treaty, if you take this curse upon yourselves but do not plan to keep the treaty of Esarhaddon…may your sons and grandsons because of this fear in the future” (see J. B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, 2:62).
Arguably the NET attempts to avoid the claim of Christian bias by give sincere homage. Yet it is significant that despite the uncertainty in the phrase, historically translators agree a definite action such as seize, worship, kiss, or pay homage is instructed. In other words, "yearn for purity" or "embrace what is pure" convey a lesser and primarily, inward response. This misstates the nature of what is required. The exact meaning of the Hebrew may be uncertain, yet a strong response directed away from self is present.
The command, נָשַׁק means to kiss. Hence, a rendering of "kiss" is literally correct and logically a kiss is given to a person. "Most modern scholars classify this psalm as a royal psalm, and connect it to other psalms concerning kings."
7 As the NET translation note shows, paying homage to a king was done with a kiss. Therefore, if the son is understood to be royalty, then kiss the son...blessed are all who take refuge in him is a reasonable translation.
The phrase begins with "to kiss..." or "to pay homage..." or even "to worship...". It instructs others to take action which is logically directed toward another, not an inward reflection. It is historically accurate to see the action consistent with the treatment of a person of royalty. The use of the Aramaic term would be unusual, but is found elsewhere. In fact the undisputed use of בר as "son" in Proverbs applies to Lemuel, who is, or will become a king.
In terms of the entire Psalm, a deliberate use of the Aramaic does compliment the opening:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed... (Psalm 2:1-2 ESV)
Taken as an Aramaic term, the Psalm ends with an implied address to the nations, not Israel, to kiss the son so as to avoid destruction and be blessed as are all who take refuge in him.
Finally, the Psalm begins (vv. 1-3) by describing the nations rebellion against YHVH and His anointed. The presence of an anointed "other" forms the basis of the prophetic oracle (vv. 6-9) and the Psalm ends (vv. 10-12) speaking to the nations as if they were present.
8If "son" is not present in this address, then the ending is stripped of YHVH's anointed who, clearly, is an important, if not the main focus of the Psalm. That is to say, yearn for purity would leave the reader wondering "What became of YHVH's anointed?" while instructing the nations "kiss the son" who is YHVH's anointed, is a proper ending to the Psalm in its entirety.
- Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1286
- Seize upon instruction is not necessarily an invention by the LXX translator(s). There are Christian and Jewish traditions (variants of Acts 13:33 and Talmud, b. Ber 9b-10a) which show Psalm 2 was a continuation of Psalm 1. If that were the case, then seize upon instruction would be consistent with the reference to torah in (1:2).
- Cambridge Bible Commentary.
- NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised, Revision Editors Kenneth L. Barker, John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel, Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan, 2002, p. 1054
- As in another answer, it can be argued the "the" son is inaccurate as the definite article ה is missing: as such the proper translation would be "a" son. However, that position is over simplistic as often times in Scripture the definite nature of what is written is obvious despite the lack of the article. It is particularly unconvincing in this Psalm; for example in verse 7, חק is universally understood as "the" decree despite the absence of ה.
- NET translation note
- Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, p. 1284