selah [see-luh, sel-uh] noun
an expression occurring frequently in the Psalms, thought to be a liturgical or musical direction, probably a direction by the leader to raise the voice or perhaps an indication of a pause.
se·lah \ˈsē-lə, -ˌlä\ interjection
a term of uncertain meaning found in the Hebrew text of the Psalms and Habakkuk carried over untranslated into some English versions
As the definitions listed above point out, the term “selah” is used mostly in the Psalms and a few times in Habakkuk. Though perhaps not uncommon, it is interesting that the definition of “salah” is that of “uncertain meaning.” If you do a little digging into the meaning and various associations with the word, here are a few thoughts you’ll come across: break, amen, forever, always tied to preceding text or thought, highest praise, instrumental interlude, lift up, loud, break in, voices silent/hushed, used 71 times in 39 psalms and 3 times in Habakkuk, more liturgical than musical (for people to participate and respond to the text/song).
Out of all of those words and thoughts tied to “selah”, I am drawn to the idea of breaking in. It might be a combination of several others with it, because when I interact with the Psalms and come to a “Selah” in the text, I envision a pause or interlude where we make space for the Spirit to break in to that very moment in time and space to speak truth into our hearts, into our minds, into our lives.
So, how do we interact with “selah” in the text and in our lives? When we’re reading scripture, whether in the Psalms in a predetermined place or where it isn’t included in the text, do we make room to pause and create space for the Spirit to break in and speak truth? In our day to day lives, are we paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading and creating space to pause, reflect, pray, listen, meditate, and slow down altogether? Sometimes we can’t physically stop or slow down, but it is possible, by the Spirit, to fix our thoughts on “things above” and experience selah even in the midst of chaos.
Whatever that looks like for you, take time, create space, take pause in your life as you pay attention to the Spirit’s leading.
Below is a passage from Psalm 46. Take a few minutes to read through the text, pause and reflect with the added questions after each “selah” moment, and ask the Lord to speak truth to you as you are reading, reflecting, praying, and listening.
Psalm 46 (ESV)
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah: Who is your refuge?
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah: Who is your fortress?
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“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 fortress. Selah: What is He putting on your heart to submit to him?