"Every word of God is flawless." Proverbs 30:5
Christ himself said, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." Luke 16:17 Every now and then, after spending some time digging in the scriptures, an obscure word begins to radiate eternal meaning.
One such word for me is "Selah." It is used over seventy times in the Psalms and another musical passage in Habakkuk.
"Selah" is part of God's word and it surrounds lyrics in Israel's worship material. Being a disciple who is trained in composing music, I was excited to find out all I could about the word. This article is a summary of my findings.
As always, God's word did NOT disappoint! I am so excited to share the treasures and blessings I have received by studying this word out. The Bible shows principles surrounding what we see in context with "Selah". Even with anobscure word, "the word of God is living and active." Hebrews 4:12
The materials available in our Bibles and online in various Bible encyclopedias, including Hebrew lexicons and a few articles were mildly helpful - but very shallow. All of them were not very thorough and lacked a disciple's perspective. The world does not value the supremacy of God's word. Additionally, most scholars are not very practical. The best thing, I thought, would be to examine the passages where "Selah" was used and look for any commonalities in my quiet times and journaling. In time, I trusted I would understand the meaning of "Selah"
Old Testament Factoid: The Lord uses "Selah" twice as often as "Amen" and three times more than "Hallelujah"
All around the world, two Hebrew words have become international terms; "Amen" and "Hallelujah". "Selah" as little as this word is used or understood, is used three times as much in the Old Testament as "Amen" and "Hallelujah"! And "Selah" is used in over 25% of the Psalms!
Seventy-four times in the Old Testament, the writers penned "Selah" in strategic places. "Amen" is used 28 times in the HCSB Old Testament and "Hallelujah" 23 times. Like "Selah", "Hallelujah" is only used in Psalms.
Additionally, all the Psalmists, but two, used "Selah" as part of their inspired text.
It is definitely a word worth understanding!
Below is a table showing the authors in the Old Testament who used the word "Selah" in their Psalms. Habakkuk wrote a Psalm in his book, and he used it 3 times under inspiration. All total, the word is recorded 74 times in God's word.
If God used it significantly more than both "Amen" and "Hallelujah", it certainly worth the reading and study to seek its meaning!
Who used "Selah" and how often in each Psalm?
When used, "Selah" was used on the average 2 times per Psalm. Ethan the Ezrahite, used "Selah" four times in Psalm 89. Ethan was an amazing man and in one account was held up as a measure of Solomon's wisdom. Another Psalmist, Heman, was noted in the same passage. I Kings 4:31 Both of them wrote one Psalm that we have record of. Heman was not one of the "Sons of Korah", but their work was mutually included in Psalm 88 with him. David's usage of "Selah" was naturally the most prolific since he penned nearly 50% of all the Psalms. When David used "Selah" in a psalm, his 1.85 times per psalm, is uncannily close to the total average of 1.9 times. Perhaps, his practice was an imitated standard.
What happens in a Psalm when "Selah" is used?
The question above was a key inquiry for me to try and grasp the meaning of God's word. "What happens in a Psalm when 'Selah' is used?" Of course, in order to discover anything at all, one has to explore and drill down into the channels that exist. And so, I opened up my Bible to Psalm 3 and read...
A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
1Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!
2Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” Selah
3But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
5I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.
7Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
8From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. Selah
Now I know this can be subjective, and what we see three times is "Selah." Take a look at it Psalm 3 a few times and see if anything changes in the Psalm after each "Selah."The one at the end of verse 8 is what I termed a "Closing Selah." This closing function only happens 4 times out of the 74 uses of "Selah" or 5.4% of the time. But what do you see happen after verse 2? Take some time and look at it. Something happens to the direction of the lyrics. Did something happen in David's heart? Now, look at the second Selah after verse 4. Again, take some time and look at it.The lyrics take on another direction. And what of David's thoughts? There is a clear progression taking place! And finally David sings "From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people." Selah
What happens after that "closing Selah"? I guess that's up to you and me... But if there is a pattern established, where David transforms from inward fear to upward faith then to confident trust he can sleep on... Wouldn't the natural tendency be for us to transform as well as we reflect on the Lord's blessing of deliverance?That's just one Psalm. But it is a good example of the general function of "Selah."We don't know what happened with the music or the singing after "Selah" but we can see that something happened in the lyrics from the heart of the psalmist when "Selah" was noted. With that one Psalm of David we saw a "closing Selah" and a pair of a transitional or "Transformative Selah"Let's look at a Psalm by the Sons of Korah. Here we will see the "transformative Selah" at work with something a bit different. Later, I will share a cataloging of all 74 Selah verses for you to study on your own. For now let's look at Psalm 46. Just as Psalm 3 is a familiar "Songs of the Kingdom" worship song, Psalm 46 is familiar to us as well. "Be still my Soul"
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.
1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Here in Psalm 46, we see a closing Selah and transformational Selah. In addition we see the use of a repeated phrase or a "Refrain Selah." This type of Selah is used 8 times in the 74 selah occurrences. That is 10.8% of the time.
For me, the refrain in verse 7 and verse 11 was very interesting.
So often we focus on verse 10 - " Be Still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. "
And yet the selah verse is actually more important in the sense that, it is the thought that God wants us to internalize. Yes, "being still" before our exalted God is crucially important. But what a transformation of our heart takes place if we look closely at the selah verse after that: "The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." Isn't that really what God wants us to know and appreciate? Who can truly succeed in life without God? Whose religion is truly spiritual without having God with them? What energizes our faith more than knowing God is with us as we do his will?
Selah puts our focus on the things God wants us to think about. Most of the time, as we see in Psalm 46 and Psalm 3, when "selah" is noted, there is a transformation of the lyrics to a new topic or focus.
As a matter of fact, if you separate out the four "Closing Selahs" from the 74 uses of "selah" there is a definitive topic / heart change in the text of the Psalms 96% of the time. (see chart)
Even with out knowing the meaning of the word, or what happened with the music, it is clear that "selah" is used with intention by God and his inspired psalmists! The passages following Selah display a change of direction in the heart of the singing prophet.It is very difficult to know for sure in all cases if the selah thought is just the one verse noted with "selah" or all or part of the paragraph in front of it. And yet, what does it matter? The Lord put it in the heart of the psalmists to note "selah" - and then continue with a new, deeper or refreshed thought.
It is as though, after a "selah", the writer grasped a renewed direction - sometimes increased faith, stronger imprecatory feelings, deeper appreciation of one of God's splendorous attributes, a widened lament or a deeper sense of security. Selah made the authors take pause, and then take action in their minds, hearts and souls. Look at the summary below of all 74 Selah passages and take time to draw your own personal understanding of the word and what you see.
|#||Verse||Author||Heart Transformation or Topic Change following SELAH?||Journal Summary Notesסֶֽלָה׃|
|1||Psalm 3:2||David||Yes||God quells David's fear following SELAH|
|2||Psalm 3:4||David||Yes||David can rest in confidence following SELAH|
|3||Psalm 3:8||David||N/A||Closing SELAH|
|4||Psalm 4:2||David||Yes||Shift to proclamation after prayer following SELAH|
|5||Psalm 4:4||David||Yes||Used in Ephesians 4:26|
|6||Psalm 7:5||David||Yes||Shift to imprecatory prayer following SELAH|
|7||Psalm 9:16||David||Yes||Higgaion and SELAH - Shift from theology to thought on the wicked after SELAH|
|8||Psalm 9:20||David||N/A||Closing SELAH|
|9||Psalm 20:3||David||Yes||This thought in verse 3 makes one reflect on what they have done for God in contrast to what the prayers have been -for God to do something for them.|
|10||Psalm 21:2||David||Yes||Verse two is the introduction to a recounting of all the blessings God gave David according to his prayers and heart's desire.|
|11||Psalm 24:6||David||Yes||This SELAH requires reflection back to verse 5 to grasp the meaning of this generation's nature. Then the psalm proceeds to cry out to the gates and doors of Zion.|
|12||Psalm 24:10||David||N/A||Closing SELAH|
|13||Psalm 32:4||David||Yes||All of these in Psalm 32 progress as the sinner is broken…|
|14||Psalm 32:5||David||Yes||The sinner confesses…|
|15||Psalm 32:7||David||Yes||The sinner praises… And finally, the sinner disciples and evangelizes others after the final SELAH|
|16||Psalm 39:5||David||Yes||Refrain These 2 SELAH notations are a refrain: "everyone is but a breath" - Following the first, a deeper conviction is communicated with affirmations like "Surely" and "in vain"|
|17||Psalm 39:11||David||Yes||Refrain After the second SELAH,a prayer of desperation rises|
|18||Psalm 44:8||Sons of Korah||Yes||Definitely a moment of praise for all that God has done! Then, following it, a reality check on their situation!|
|19||Psalm 46:3||Sons of Korah||Yes||Beautiful transitions from turmoil to "a river whose streams make glad the city of God"|
|20||Psalm 46:7||Sons of Korah||Yes||Refrain The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. SELAH|
|21||Psalm 46:11||Sons of Korah||N/A||Refrain and Closing We normally reflect on verse 10 - "Be still and know that I am God" But verse 11 is more transforming if you weigh it in context. 11- The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. SELAH|
|22||Psalm 47:4||Sons of Korah||Yes||After SELAH based on God's love and blessing- Praise begins.|
|23||Psalm 48:8||Sons of Korah||Yes||After SELAH based on God keeping Zion secure forever, thoughts turn to God's love and praise begins.|
|24||Psalm 49:13||Sons of Korah||No||SELAH thought is same as previous and following thoughts|
|25||Psalm 49:15||Sons of Korah||Yes||SELAH thought is a contrast to previous thoughts and transition to its following thoughts|
|26||Psalm 50:6||Asaph||Yes||SELAH thought is similar to Romans 1:18-20 regarding creation and judgement. See also Psalm 96. It is a pause between God speaking in the first person.|
|27||Psalm 52:3||David||Yes||SELAH thought emphasizespreceding and following reproach before imprecatory comments.|
|28||Psalm 52:5||David||Yes||SELAH thought is an imprecatory prophecy.|
|29||Psalm 54:3||David||Yes||Similar to Psalm 3 - David goes from reflecting on the attacks of others to depending on God|
|30||Psalm 55:7||David||Yes||SELAH thought is an emphasisof preceding and following aim to flee to a safe place before imprecatory prayers.|
|31||Psalm 55:19||David||Yes||SELAH thought is an emphasisof praise and imprecatory prophesying.|
|32||Psalm 57:3||David||Yes||SELAH thought is an emphasisof God answering his cries for help!|
|33||Psalm 57:6||David||Yes||SELAH thought is a recounting of David's enemies traps backfiring!|
|34||Psalm 59:5||David||Yes||Refrain/ Imprecatory and used as a transition to a refrain|
|35||Psalm 59:13||David||Yes||Refrain Imprecatory and used as a refrain|
|36||Psalm 60:4||David||Yes||SELAH thought is a stark contrast to preceding laments.|
|37||Psalm 61:4||David||Yes||SELAH thought is an independent longing in the first person in contrast to what God has done in surrounding phrases.|
|38||Psalm 62:4||David||Yes||Similar to Psalm 3, SELAH thought shows his fears amidst the deliverance of his God.|
|39||Psalm 62:8||David||Yes||This SELAH thought is a call to the congregation to trust the Lord and pour out your hearts to him!|
|40||Psalm 66:4||Unknown||Yes||After SELAH, text addresses congregation|
|41||Psalm 66:7||Unknown||Yes||After SELAH, text calls nations to praise God|
|42||Psalm 66:15||Unknown||Yes||After SELAH, text addresses congregation|
|43||Psalm 67:1||Unknown||Yes||SELAH follows a prayer blessing that then brings world evangelization.|
|44||Psalm 67:4||Unknown||Yes||This SELAH precedes a refrain "May the peoples praise you"|
|45||Psalm 68:7||David||Yes||This SELAH is an anticipation builder… When God marched…|
|46||Psalm 68:19||David||Yes||SELAH after a PRAISE phrase directed to the congregation. A refrain with verses 4 and 32|
|47||Psalm 68:32||David||Yes||SELAH after a distinctly new praise section / phrase directed to the kingdoms of the earth. A refrain with verses 4 and 32|
|48||Psalm 75:3||Asaph||Yes||This SELAH is after a phrase showing God is in control. And writer then changes audience from God to the arrogant.|
|49||Psalm 76:3||Asaph||Yes||After SELAH the focus goes directly to addressing God's glorious attributes.|
|50||Psalm 76:9||Asaph||Yes||This is a thought on the silencing power of God's wrath. Then the thought is cemented by the next thought.|
|51||Psalm 77:3||Asaph||Yes||Thought goes from first person to telling God what the he, the Lord did.|
|52||Psalm 77:9||Asaph||Yes||The topic changes after the SELAH from laments to a new focus on God's deeds.|
|53||Psalm 77:15||Asaph||Yes||The phrases in this Psalm are longer and here the thoughts go to how creation responds to God after a section on how God worked among people.|
|54||Psalm 81:7||Asaph||Yes||Psalmist changes from God in 1st person to addressing the people after the SELAH|
|55||Psalm 82:2||Asaph||Yes||The SELAH phrase addresses the false "gods" with a question.|
|56||Psalm 83:8||Asaph||Yes||The SELAH follows a long section naming all of the pagan nations forming alliances against Israel. Then it calls on God to rise and punish them.|
|57||Psalm 84:4||Sons of Korah||Yes||Writer transitions from the beauty of God's presence to the blessedness of those in his presence!|
|58||Psalm 84:8||Sons of Korah||Yes||Writer transitions from the blessedness of those in his presence to a prayer.|
|59||Psalm 85:2||Sons of Korah||Yes||The SELAH thought here is a pause for people to reflect that God forgave their sin. It is sandwiched between a verse on his grace and a verse on his mercy!|
|60||Psalm 87:3||Sons of Korah||Yes||The SELAH thought is a preface to what glorious things will be said about Zion.|
|61||Psalm 87:6||Sons of Korah||Yes||After listing the pagan nations, they will be known as children of Zion.|
|62||Psalm 88:7||Heman (Sons of Korah)||No||This is a lamentation psalm and the first SELAH thought is a statement of being overwhelmed under God's wrath.|
|63||Psalm 88:10||Heman (Sons of Korah)||Yes||The second SELAH thought starts a series of rhetorical questions to God about his listening to the dead.|
|64||Psalm 89:4||Ethan||Yes||Messianic prophecy in SELAHshowing God's promise to David.|
|65||Psalm 89:37||Ethan||Yes||Messianic prophecy in SELAHshowing God's promise to David.|
|66||Psalm 89:45||Ethan||Yes||The SELAH here calls for a pause to reflect on the seeming calamities that have befallen God's anointed!|
|67||Psalm 89:48||Ethan||Yes||The SELAH here begs the question of God - "Who can live forever and not see the grave?"|
|68||Psalm 140:3||David||Yes||Refrain The opening SELAHsemphasize, with repetition how badly David's enemies are treating him!|
|69||Psalm 140:5||David||Yes||Refrain The opening SELAHsemphasize, with repetition how badly David's enemies are treating him!|
|70||Psalm 140:8||David||Yes||The 3rd SELAH is call on God an leads to imprecatory prayers.|
|71||Psalm 143:6||David||Yes||David shows God his earnestness through his meditating on God's works and lifting his hands to him as he pours out his prayers in this SELAH|
|72||Habakkuk 3:3a||Habakkuk||Yes||Glory described following SELAH|
|73||Habakkuk 3:9a||Habakkuk||Yes||God's anger? Split rivers.|
|74||Habakkuk 3:13||Habakkuk||No||SELAH shows God's smiting of Israel's enemies|
Musical Possibilities in David's Time David knew what to do on his harp and with his voice when he noted "Selah" in a Psalm. We have no definitive idea what practices he used. Perhaps he had a cache of multiple techniques that he chose at random when performing for the Lord and his brothers and sisters. Perhaps the Sons of Korah and Heman used different artistic techniques than David. Perhaps not. Regardless, as you examine the sacred texts, "Selah" reveals a definitive change, with intent, in the topic, subject or intensity of the text from the heart of the Psalmist. To accompany those changes, the musicians may have changed the music to highlight the progression.
Perhaps when the Selah phrase itself was noted, they enhanced its emphasis by repeating it again, or by arpeggiating sustained chords on the psalter. The possibilities and variations are quite numerous. Here is a sample list I thought of:
Perhaps the Davidic worship team...
- Repeated the Selah phrase (softer or louder)
- Paused with silence after the Selah phrase
- Played an instrumental version of the music used in the Selah phrase for reflection
- Just continued the Psalm after singing or saying "Selah"
- Let a different singer sing the same phrase
- Played slow arpeggiated chords as a pause
- Played an improvised solo with virtuosity
- Play music while someone prayed or read the psalm out loud
- Variations of all the above and more in one shape or form or another
- None of the above
The possibilities are numerous and it really does not matter. We should be concerned with the meaning of the holy texts - including "selah." Later, I'll share some ideas for application today. As long as the meaning of God's word is enhanced or highlighted in a special and effective way, the possibilities with the tool of music are boundaryless! God wants to help people connect with him!
So what does Selah mean in Hebrew?
It would be nice to get some sort of meaning to the word, so it could be translated. For whatever its worth, the Hellenistic Jews who translated the Septuagint into Greek,
used the word "diapsalma." That is translated "interlude" or "postlude" depending on the location of the notation. The quality of translation varies widely within the sections of the Septuagint, and it is easy to dismiss this rendering. However, it is difficult to not think "Selah" is musical term since it is found 100% of the time imbedded in the text of the Psalms. And yet, many musical terms have evolved from everyday common words from various languages. "Allegro" means "happy" for example, in Italian. And in music it means an upbeat tempo.
The study tools, lexicons, ministry resources and countless web-sites vary in credibility- from scholarly Jewish and Bible encyclopedias to brutish blogs stating with sarcasm that "Selah" is what David said "every time broke a harp string."
Diving into the study of an ancient Hebrew word opens up deep mines of textual analysis, comparisons of translations and arenas of thought that for the most part, simply provide thousands of words of information - with little practical value. However, it is good to sift through the sands of textual criticism, history, opinions and intelligent observation to harvest a sense of credibility on the topic you are studying.
One of the best results of study, is developing an open mind and learning others' perspectives and sharpening your personal discernment. All truth is God's truth, and there is a lot to learn that can deepen a disciple's convictions. At the same time, with humility, you learn the grace of not being dogmatic or arrogant about the truth you do believe in from God's word. The Bereans maintained "noble character" and respected Paul's input, yet held it up to revealed truth in the Hebrew scriptures.
Back to "Amen" for a Little Guidance
As noted earlier, the Hebrew word "amen" is a very potent international word. Transliterated directly from the Hebrew into New Testament Greek, and then to Latin and into English and many other languages it has possibly become the best-known word in human speech. Amen? If you ever get a chance to study it out, you will find that very few people would disagree that it is derived from the Hebrew word "aman." This word means "believe" or "faithful." Although not identical, "aman" is ALMOST identical to Amen. Without diving into another word study, I simply want to raise the distinct possibility, that we can get a clue for "selah" by looking at similar words in Hebrew.
Note: For Hebrew, I do not have any formal training, certificate or degree. And all Bible students / disciples should be fully aware of the dangers of using Bible study tools indiscriminately. Even a concordance can be misleading in the hands of a baby Christian or non-studious disciple! (Is than an oxymoron?) On the other hand, it is more dangerous to not love God's word and "do your best" to know and understand his word! Paul promised when discussing his sincere reliance on God's grace "For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand." 2 Corinthians 1:13 With a bit of diligence, discernment and desire, we can enjoy the blessings of a God who has worked very hard and who works -even to this day to show us his will - so we can please him through obedient, loving faith! As Jesus was woken up "morning by morning as one being taught" , may we see the answer to this prayer bless our lives: "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." Psalm 119:18
Two Viable Hebrew Root Words for "Selah"
Now getting back to any indications in Hebrew for the meaning of "selah" as we see in Amen, there are actually some nearly identical words.
"Calah" - 5541 http://biblehub.com/hebrew/strongs_5541.htm סָלָה A couple of ministry sources cited the Hebrew word "calah" (sä·lä' ) as being the root of "selah". They are very similar in Hebrew! Job 28 in verse 16 and 19 use it as "weighed" or "valued" against. In context, the gold and topaz of Ethiopia cannot be "compared" to the value of wisdom. The idea then would give "selah" a meaning of "weigh" this, "value" it. Put it on a scale and place weight on it as a valuable point to ponder. The idea certainly works when you examine the 74 times "selah" is used in scripture. The main meaning is "to reject" or "cast aside." That does not align at all and there are no Hebrew practices I could find historically that validate any truth in maintaining that is a clear choice to marry with "selah." However, the secondary definition, and its application in the Psalms for "selah" works as you see the topics change with intention as the Psalmist continues his journey in the lyrics.
"Salal" - 5549 http://biblehub.com/hebrew/strongs_5549.htm סָלַל This Hebrew word "salal" (saw-lal') was also cited as a possibility for a root to the term "selah." It is translated "build up", "lift up" or "exalt." These synonyms are used from its primary to alternate meanings in scripture. The idea is to build up a road so it can be traveled upon. Or it is used to "exalt", "lift up", or "highly prize" something.
It is used to "extol the Lord" in adoration and fear in Psalm 68. And in this psalm, we see a use of "salal" used very similarly to "selah" in the same psalm. Verse 19 and 32 are verses with "selah" at the end - And they are imperatives to sing praise to God. These calls to praise comprise a refrain in the psalm - with slight variation.
Verse 4 is an identical imperative - the first of the 3 and uses "salal" or, translated here as "extol."
Scripture Shedding Light on Scripture: Psalm 68:4,19,32
4Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol (Salal) him who rides on the clouds; Rejoice before him—his name is Yahweh.
19Praise be to Yahweh, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah
32Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Yahweh, Selah
Lift up! Exalt! Highly Prize! For me, "salal" is a stronger candidate to marry up to "selah" as a meaning for it. The application, when you "lift up" the thoughts that have "selah" after them has the same effect as "calah." You reflect on the lyrics! One is placing a high value on the text when weighing it. The other is placing a high value on the text as you lift it up and highly prize it! And when you lift up God's word, you lift your soul, your hands, your mind, your heart, your voice and your whole life! That is what makes one "upright"! Do a study on what God's people lift up to God. Maybe you could do an article on it! It starts by lifting his word and heeding his voice. In the first century, and before the Christian era, and even today, the Jews literally raised up the word of God before it is recited in public. This is historical context, Jewish custom, shedding light on the meaning of scripture.
Painting by Alex Levin http://artlevin.com/product/light-of-torah/
History Shedding Light on Scripture
The practice to "lift up" the word of God was customary throughout Israel's history. The Psalmist even praised God's word.
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" Psalm 56:4,10
"I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your nam e and your word." Psalm 138:2
In the New Testament, we see the Gentiles being taught by their Jewish Christian brothers to do the same in Act 13:47-48
"For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed."
Scripture was held in the absolute highest regard to the Jews. For example, in the synagogues, when the scrolls were brought forth for reading as in Luke 4, the synagogue attendant would raise the scroll up above his head and walk around the standing congregation three times. The congregants remained completely silent in reverence to the holy word of God. That was the context of Luke 4 as Jesus preached in the Nazareth synagogue where he grew up. When it says, "he unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written..." Even today, Jewish communities continue this practice in conservative congregations everywhere.
See article from Wall Street Journal at link: http://bit.ly/NY_Selah
What Selah Means to Me
Bible study is all about "meaning" and understanding what God meant. For myself, after examining these passages closely, looking at Jewish traditions, and looking at the Hebrew terms with the best tools available, I have come to understand the word to mean "lift up" the text preceding "selah." With intent, the psalmist has chosen, under inspiration, to place a heightened reverence on certain lyrics. With that, the musicians and congregation knew to focus with utmost reverence on selah passages. And as you lift up God's word in your mind and heart, you lift up your entire soul and life to God.
The term is used so often when compared to other more common terms like "Amen" and "Hallelujah" that a meaning is definitely worth seeking out.
In my personal reflection, I envision the ancient Jews in worship. They would exalt the word and at "selah" raise it up higher and consider the thought shared with the absolute, utmost highest regard. In other words, as a Psalm was read in the traditional song voice with a harp, the imperative "SELAH" called forth and even higher attention to the phrase just recited.
What would be the natural response to such passages? If, in general, the word of God was revered with silent respect, a call to Selah would have brought the congregants to heed the Lord even more closely in selah passages. It is similar to Hebrews 2:1 "We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard" so we do not drift away." It also sheds light on the term for scripture "The fear of the Lord" in Psalm 19:9.
In worship, between verses of hymns, praise songs and psalms, we ought to teach our congregations to reflect reverently on the texts that are God's inspired words or principles. See Psalm 47 sample here. Bands could play instrumentals as people pray over what they have just sung to God. New hymns could, with intention, repeat phrases that would "build up" the saints. We have done this in Worcester with a few hymns. Below is a pair of sample videos using the technique of an instrumental for people to pray between verses. It works best with prayer when the hymns are vertical hymns addressing God or inward hymns coaxing our soul to seek God's face.
"For Those Tears" with a "selah prayer time" between verses
"Yahweh the Lord, 'Abba' Father" with a "selah prayer time" between verses
Certainly, these thoughts are nothing surprising. The book of Psalms starts with the theme "Meditate on God's word all day long" See Psalm 1
And the Lord asks us clearly to sing with intention with ardent spirits and understanding minds. See related thoughts in this article.
I am very happy, before God, to have an understanding of this word for my own soul and mind. Look for yourself. Your heart will receive joy and you'll have something to share.
Psalm 139:17 - "How precious are your thoughts to me, O Lord. How vast is the sum of them"
In Christ's grace,
Jerry Maday Worcester County Church of Christ
Here are the Hebrew Lexicon links again for this who wish to dig deeper on their own and mine what they can for their souls...