Selah

Psalm 66:1-4 How Awesome Are Your Deeds
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You. All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.” Selah

When’s the last time you used the word Selah? Do you even know what Selah means? If you’d be hard-pressed to explain its meaning, you’re not alone. The question of what Selah means has been debated for centuries. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, yet mysterious word, but what does it mean? Most versions of the Bible don’t even try to translate; they simply “transliterate” the word straight from the Hebrew.

Many theologians lean toward a meaning that is something close to “to pause, or to reflect." And if you’d take the time to look at the places in the book of Psalms and Habakkuk where the word appears, this explanation makes a lot of sense based on the context. There are other experts, however, who would argue that Selah is a musical notation similar to words like caesura, pianissimo, or adagio. They suggest that Selah signified that the singers or the instrumentalists were to “rest” or stop playing. If that’s true, then each time Selah appears in the Psalms, the musicians would have paused for a dramatic effect. We would assume they paused to praise the One about whom the Psalm was speaking.

One source I consulted suggested that the musical notation definition was helpful because if it were indeed an instruction about how the song was to be performed, both the musicians and those being ministered to would benefit from the moment of “pause,” “praise,” or “reflection.” The Amplified Bible adds the phrase “pause and calmly think about that” to each verse in Psalms where Selah appears.” In Habakkuk’s prayer (Habakkuk 3), Selah would inspire the reader to pause and praise God for His mercy, power, sufficiency, and sustaining grace. Maybe the best way to interpret Selah is to amalgamate all of the possible meanings.

But my favorite definition is the one that Pastor Jeremy gave me last winter while we were studying the book of James for our Family Night class. He said that Selah was like when you put your index finger to your lips and say, “Shhh.” Then in that moment of silence, you consider reverently what you’ve just heard from God.

Try it with this verse: “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” “Shhh… Selah.

Written by Jim De Horn