The Selah That Keeps Us From Sinning

There is a very natural emotion that we humans have when someone has hurt us, but if we don’t pause (Selah), that natural emotion can lead us into sin. David has good counsel for angry people in Psalm 4. 

Many scholars think that Psalm 4 is a continuation—or a part 2—of Psalm 3. As you will notice in the preface of Psalm 3, David is on the run from his son Absalom, who is trying to steal the kingdom of Israel from him. 

Look at the swing of David’s emotions:

  • Troubled/sad (v. 1) 
  • Anger (v. 4)
  • Contentment (v. 7)
  • Peace (v. 8)

The first time David tells his readers to Selah pause is between verses 2 and 3. The change is almost an about-face: 

Look at this: look who got picked by God! He listens the split second I call to Him. Complain if you must, but don’t lash out. Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for His verdict (vv. 3-5 in The Message). 

My friend Josh Schram shared these truths: 

  1. Don’t sin by letting anger control you. 
  2. It’s right to be angry, but it’s not right to sin. 
  3. When someone hurts us, it’s tempting to break God’s law. We can almost justify it, but it is a sin to give in to anger. 

“Search your heart and be silent”Selah. This pause gives us hope that we can “build your case before God and wait for His verdict.” 

In Romans 12:17-21, Paul gives similar counsel when dealing with enemies:  As far as it depends on you…

  • Don’t repay evil for evil. 
  • Do repay evil with doing what’s right. 
  • Don’t take revenge. 
  • Do let God handle it. 
  • Don’t mistreat your enemies. 
  • Do bless your enemies. 
  • Don’t be overcome by evil. 
  • Do overcome evil by doing good. 

Since David let his anger go, that also means he didn’t sin! His clear conscience meant he could lie down and sleep in peace. 

You cannot hold a grudge and peace in the same heart. 

Please join me next week as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. 

Argument Vs. Experience

There is a curious word that shows up about 70 times in the Bible (almost all of them in the Psalms)—Selah. The best scholars can figure is that this word has some sort of musical meaning: 

  1. Pause / Interlude—to rest in silence. This might even be where the singers stopped while the music continued. 
  1. Accentuation—to lift up or exalt; as in the renewed vigor of the singer or musician after pausing for a deep breath. 
  1. 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: 

    • sleep 
    • sustaining power 
    • no fear of the tens of thousands on every side
    • deliverance
    • 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. 

Selah

The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our new summer series. 

Selah can mean…

  • a pause from the noise to reflect;
  • a preparation for an exciting accent; or 
  • a reflective time of consideration

Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Summertime is typically a time for us to pause from our regular routine. Perhaps it’s a vacation, time with friends and family, driving around with the windows down and the music blasting, or just a quiet walk through woods or along a beach. In any case, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually doing Selah in these break-from-the-routine activities. 

Join me beginning this Sunday for our summertime look at each of the Psalms that ask us to Selah. I think you will find that this Sunday summertime pause will be both refreshing and encouraging. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

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