Selah–Pause and Reflect

Years ago someone mentioned to me that the word “selah” means “pause and calmly think about that” in reference to whenever you see the word written in the Bible (found in two books in the Old Testament). Selah “occurs 71 times in 39 of the Psalms, and three times in Habakkuk 3: altogether 74 times in the Bible. It is found at the end of Psalms 3, 24, and 46, and in most other cases at the end of a verse, the exceptions being Psalms 55:19, 57:3, and Habakkuk 3:3, 9, 13.” (Quote source here.)

GotQuestions.org provides the following information regarding the word “selah”:

There is a great deal of uncertainty about the meaning of “selah.” Most versions of the Bible do not attempt to translate “selah” but simply transliterate the word straight from the Hebrew. The Septuagint translated the word as “daplasma” (“a division”). Well-meaning Bible scholars disagree on the definition of “selah” and on its root word, but since God has ordained that it be included in His Word, we should make an effort to find out, as best we can, the meaning.

One possible Hebrew word related to “selah” is “calah,” which means “to hang” or “to measure or weigh in the balances.” Referring to wisdom, Job says, “The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold” (Job 28:19). The word translated “valued” in this verse is the Hebrew “calah.” Here Job is saying that wisdom is beyond comparing against even jewels, and when weighed in the balance against wisdom, the finest jewels cannot equal its value.

“Selah” is also thought to be rendered from two Hebrew words: “s_lah”–“to praise”; and “s_lal”–“to lift up.” Another commentator believes it comes from “salah”–“to pause.” From “salah” comes the belief that “selah” is a musical notation signifying a rest to the singers and/or instrumentalists who performed the psalms. If this is true, then each time “selah” appears in a psalm, the musicians paused, perhaps to take a breath, to sing a cappella, or to let the instruments play alone. Perhaps they were pausing to praise the One about whom the song was speaking, perhaps even lifting their hands in worship. This theory would encompass all these meanings—“praise,” “lift up,” and “pause.” When we consider the three verses in Habakkuk, we also see how “selah” could mean “to pause and praise.” Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 inspires the reader to pause and praise God for His mercy, power, sustaining grace, and sufficiency.

Perhaps the best way to think of “selah” is a combination of all these meanings. The Amplified Bible adds “pause and calmly think about that” to each verse where “selah” appears. When we see the word “selah” in a psalm or in Habakkuk 3, we should pause to carefully weigh the meaning of what we have just read or heard, lifting up our hearts in praise to God for His great truths. “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name. Selah!” (Psalm 66:4). (Quote source here.)

In a devotion published in Our Daily Bread on December 16, 2007, titled, A Selah Moment,” by Dennis Fisher, Senior Research Editor (now retired) at Our Daily Bread, he wrote:

A Selah Moment

He is the King of glory. Selah.Psalm 24:10
Today’s Scripture: Psalm 24

King David proclaimed: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory” (Ps. 24:10). The word Selah was later added to the end of this psalm and many others. Some believe it refers to an instrumental interlude because the psalms were often set to music. Biblical scholars also suggest other possible meanings, including “silence,” “pause,” “interruption,” “accentuate,” “exalt,” or “end.”

Reflecting on these words can help us to take a “Selah moment” to pause and worship God during the day.

Be silent and listen to the voice of God (Ps. 46:10).

Pause from a hectic schedule to be refreshed in spirit (Ps. 42:1-2).

Interrupt the day to do a spiritual inventory and be cleansed (Ps. 51:1-10).

Accentuate the joy of God’s provision through thanks-giving (Ps. 65:9-13).

Exalt the name of God for answered prayer in spite of disappointment (Ps. 40:1-3).

End the day by reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness (Ps. 119:148).

David’s reflection on God included a Selah moment. Following his example will help us worship our God throughout the day. (Quote source here.)

I think back to when this devotion was first published in December 2007 and how much my world has changed in the 14+ years since then. I would guess that is true for many people who are reading this post. At that time I was working at a Christian university in Florida, and I thought I would most likely work there until I retired which was at least a decade away. Little did I realize that in that same month, December 2007, I would learn that the division I was working in would be dismantled in January 2008, and it would totally change the direction of my life. It reminds me of those verses found in James 4:13-15 which state:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

If you are like me, it is rare that any of us pause long enough to reflect on just how brief our lives are here on earth whether we die at a young age or we die well into our golden years. We certainly don’t think about being “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Yet that is our life, especially in light of eternity.

This also reminds me of a parable told by Jesus found in Luke 12:16-21:

And he (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is the time for “selah”–for pausing and reflecting on our lives, especially since we have just entered another brand new year–2022. We make so many assumptions every single day, but nobody knows what tomorrow will bring even with all of our “best laid plans.” That is not to say there is anything wrong with making plans, but as Proverbs 19:21 states:

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Never in a million years would I have guessed what these past 14+ years would entail as they have unfolded. None of it was on my radar screen–not even remotely; not even as a tiny blip. Nada, zero, zilch… and yet, for the plans I made (which didn’t occur after all), it is, as stated in the verse above, the Lord’s purpose that has prevailed–day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year. And it continues to unfold.

From the time I was born I attended church, and I spent many years of my life active in church, but nothing came close to preparing me for what I have experienced in these later years of my life. However, I would not trade what I have learned in these past 14+ years for the different outcome I had planned for in my later years when I was still working at that Christian university in 2007.

Most Christians who have grown up in a church setting are familiar with the Wilderness story found in the Old Testament–Exodus 15:22-18:27–(a summary is available at this link). Today we might liken a wilderness experience” with feelings of apathy or “just coasting along” after years of being a Christian. Everything starts to seem “routine” and there isn’t much challenge nor are we looking for it, or we are going through a difficult trial that never seems to end. There are other ways to describe it, too, but for the most part, it is a sort of “falling away” or letting “other stuff” get in the way and fill up our lives, and it sometimes happens slowly over time. Call it “complacency.” And this can happen even when one is attending church on a regular basis and with those who are involved in church activities. It is insidious because it isn’t recognized for what it actually is, and I had reached that point back when I was working at that Christian university without realizing it. My “wake up” call came when my division was dismantled.

This kind of complacency reminds me of the allegory of the frog being slowly boiled alive as described as follows in Wikipedia:

The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly. (Quote source here.)

And this story reminds me of Paul’s admonition found in Ephesians 5 (specifically, verses 13-17):

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Back right before Christmas I was in a Hobby Lobby store and I looked over their small selection of Christians books. I came across a new book titled, Invincible (2021), by Dr. Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. Here is a brief description of his book on Amazon:

As we walk through this life, the way will not always be easy and well-marked. In fact, we can expect lots of ups and downs and setbacks along the way. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves face-to-face with a mountain that threatens to stop us in our tracks. We know that Jesus tells us we can move these mountains–but how? 

In “Invincible,” Dr. Robert Jeffress helps us identify and defeat the mountains that threaten to keep us from experiencing a blessed life. Offering biblical insight and practical tools, Dr. Jeffress shows us how to conquer the mountains of doubt, guilt, anxiety, discouragement, fear, bitterness.

Such obstacles can seem insurmountable. Yet we know that with God we are invincible. When we put our faith in God and rely on his power, praying according to his will, he will enable us to move the mountains in our lives. (Quote source here.)

There are also chapters (more mountains to conquer) that deal with materialism (a biggie in America), loneliness, lust, and grief. Too often, we tend to stumble over or even deny that these are issues in our lives; hence, the “boiling frog” analogy as we aren’t paying any attention. And those very issues can be our wilderness, too.

With the beginning of a new year, now is the time to start cleaning out our closets. What we hide from others (and even try to hide from ourselves) is never hidden from God. So I’ll end this post with Psalm 46:10-11, which is a very good place for us to start: Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us…

The God of Jacob . . .

Is our refuge . . .

Selah . . . .

YouTube Video: “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” by Selah:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here