- Pause / Interlude—to rest in silence. This might even be where the singers stopped while the music continued.
- Accentuation—to lift up or exalt; as in the renewed vigor of the singer or musician after pausing for a deep breath.
- Consideration—the root word for Selah means to weigh on a balance, with the idea of despising the things that are light or trivial, and valuing the things that carry weight or substance. The Amplified Bible uses the phrase “pause and calmly think of that.”
All three are valid definitions, and all three are used in the Psalms. I think the context of the Psalm makes it clear which one is meant. Sometimes more than one meaning is implied, and sometimes all three meanings are implied.
Selah first shows up in Psalm 3. This is also one of the few psalms that uses Selah multiple times. We also get a clue to the context in the introduction: A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom [see 2 Samuel 15].
David has a lot of enemies ganging up on him? The Message says, “enemies past counting!” And David laments that his enemies are whispering something very negative: “There is no God” or “God is too disinterested or weak to help you” or “You don’t deserve to have God’s help.”
In the midst of this noise, David pens his first SELAH—David needs a pause. The enemies past counting have got his thoughts swirling. He needs to pause and calmly think: “I KNOW God can and will help me because He has already helped me in the past. You may have your arguments and reasons, but I have my personal experience with God!”
Notice the very next word: But (v. 3). You ARE [not were or will be] a shield around me…. To the Lord I CRY aloud [not I used to cry or I will cry], and He ANSWERS [not He answered or He will answer] me… (v. 4).
The second SELAH (v. 4) is the renewed vigor after the pause. The Message says, His answers thunder from the holy mountain. This corresponds with what David wrote when God delivered him previously (see Psalm 18:4-13). Then in the next four verses, David lists all the blessings that come when God answers:
- sustaining power
- no fear of the tens of thousands on every side
- retribution for enemies
- God’s blessing—Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes Your people! (v. 8 in MSG)
David concludes this psalm with one final SELAH (v. 8)—to weigh on a balance. On one side: accusations and threats (only words). On the other side: personal experience of past deliverance and confident assurance of God’s present presence and rock-solid hope in God’s future grace. Pause and calmly consider those scales: which side are you on? Do you have only words, or do you have personal experience?
The one with an experience with God is NEVER at the mercy of the one with only an argument against God.
Join me next Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. You can join me in person or on Facebook Live.