Kiss the Son: David, Absalom, Judas and Jesus

I am currently taking a slow journey through the Psalms; roughly a Psalm a week, which I’m pondering across a few days, alongside my other readings. I’m really enjoying the slow pace, and the repeated reading, and I’m being hugely helped by James Hamilton’s brilliant commentary, which has made me appreciate how carefully arranged the Psalms are, and to see connections between them that I hadn’t previously.

Psalms 1 and 2 belong together as an introduction to the whole book, and to the main figure of the long-awaited Messiah. Psalm 1 divides humanity into the righteous and the wicked, and Psalm 2 introduces us to the Son of David who is the true ‘blessed one’ of Psalm 1.1, and will be installed on Gods holy hill to reign over the nations (2.6).

Psalm 2 ends with this final instruction:

‘Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

(Psalm 2.10-12)

The rulers of the nations are told to ‘kiss the son’, that is, to pay homage to the Davidic King – the Son of David, who will also be known as the Son of God (2 Samuel 7.12-15). Seems straightforward enough. But the very next Psalm opens with a superscription: ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.’ Psalms 3-9 are all connected to the time of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 13-18), so knowing that the Psalms are deliberately arranged, with linguistic and thematic connections between them, we should stop and ponder the significance of the word ‘son’ appearing in juxtaposed psalms. Why does the Psalmist choose to follow Psalm 2 with a series of Psalms about a rebellious son? What does this tell us about the identity of the Son of David, to whom the nations should submit?

Kiss the Son: But which one?

In 2.12, ‘son’ is in Aramaic, whereas in the superscription to Psalm 3 it’s in Hebrew. It is probably appropriate that Aramaic is used in Psalm 2, which addresses an audience of gentile kings. But Hamilton also suggests that,

‘The Aramaic may have been chosen in 2.12 to differentiate the future king from David’s line from the rebel Absalom, the “son” of David.’

James Hamilton

I suspect he’s right. The psalmist wants to draw a distinction between the natural son of David (Absalom) and the Messianic Son of David who was still to come. It was the latter Son who was worthy of the worship of the nations.

With this in mind, I re-read the tragic story of Absalom, and noticed something that I hadn’t before; Absalom’s rebellion against his father was sealed with a kiss.

After the horrific events of 2 Samuel 13 with the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon, Absalom murdered his brother and fled to Geshur, where he lived for three years. David mourned the loss of Absalom, and eventually Joab – David’s nephew – orchestrated a meeting between the king and his estranged son. At that moment of restoration, we read:  

‘So [Absalom] came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.’

(2 Samuel 14.33)

This reconciliation was short-lived. In the very next chapter, Absalom began his plot to usurp the throne of David by promising people that he would bring them justice if he were installed as king. And we read:

‘Whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.’

(2 Samuel 15.5-7)

The Son of David who was kissed by his father, then ‘kisses away’ the hearts of Israel, usurping the throne of the true king.

Given this background, I think the deliberate juxtaposition of these stories in Psalms 1-2 and 3-9 is intended to remind us that the natural son of David is not the Messianic Son of David. Absalom is – in a sense – anti-christ, attempting to usurp the throne of David by stealing the worship that is due to the Messiah alone.

Kiss the Son: But how, and for what purpose?

With the benefit of the whole canon of Scripture, this should remind us of another story in which a Son of David received a kiss; namely Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Like with Absalom, this moment was a perversion of the true worship prescribed in Psalm 2. Judas’ kiss of Jesus was not a kiss of worship, but an expression of the plot against the Lord’s anointed (Psalm 2.1-2). Only in this instance, it wasn’t the kings of the Gentile nations who plotted against the Messiah, but the leaders of Israel! The religious leaders had paid Judas to kiss away the hearts of Israel, attempting to usurp the throne of the true king by betraying him unto death.

The Judas story is laden with Absalom imagery. As Judas approaches Jesus to kiss him, Jesus says “Do what you came for, friend” (Matthew 26.50). Likewise, through his ‘kiss’ Absalom became ‘friends’ with the men of Israel (2 Samuel 15.6).

Furthermore, Judas’ fate is like that of Absalom. Absalom got his hair caught in the branches of a tree, leaving his body hanging there, whilst others debated whether it would be appropriate to kill the son of David for ten – or even 1,000 – pieces of silver (2 Samuel 18.1-13). In the end, no money changes hands, and Joab thrust three spears into the heart of Absalom, killing him. He is then buried in a field, and we’re told that a pillar which Absalom had erected at his own cost and effort remained ‘to this day’ as a monument to his treachery.

In the case of Judas, his story ends with him suspended from the branch of a tree, having had a crisis of conscience over having received 30 pieces of silver to betray the Son of David. In the end, he tried to return the money to the priests, but Judas’ money was used to purchase a field for the burial for foreigners, and it bears the name Field of Blood ‘to this day’. All of this is recorded in Matthew 27, although Acts 1.18 includes the additional detail that not only did Judas hang himself, but his body also burst open, not unlike that of Absalom, whose body was impaled with three spears.

(I can’t help but wonder, too, whether there isn’t an implied irony in Psalm 3, in that YHWH is described as ‘the lifter of [David’s] head’ (v3), and the way he rescued David from Absalom was precisely by lifting Absalom’s head in a tree!)

Putting all this together, reflecting on Psalms 2-3 and the later events of the gospels adds layers of challenge to that simple instruction in Psalm 2.12

Kiss the Son. But make sure you kiss the right one, in the right way. Not Absalom, but Jesus. And not in betrayal like Judas, but in reverence and worship.


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Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash

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