Selah

Have you ever been reading the psalms, and come across that word off to the side of the margins (typically italicized too) “selah?” Have you ever wondered what it meant and why it is there? If you’re like me, you also may have wondered, “am I supposed to read that word, even? I’m confused.” While it may seem like an insignificant word, I believe a proper understanding of selah, may help us appreciate God all the more, while simultaneously growing our prayer lives.

In the Hebrew language, “selah” is translated to סֶלָה‎, which means, “lift up or exalt.” In many church traditions today, selah brings us to respond to the text with “a pause, reflection, or silence.” When we read a praise or prayer to God, and selah appears, we should not just read it like the next word in a sentence. It is a call from the psalmist to stop and exalt God in a moment of silence or reflection. Whatever is read to us immediately before selah should be our focus.

Seriously consider this in our personal prayer life. When do we stop and simply reflect on the truths, attributes, and character traits of God? Taking a short ten seconds to dwell on whatever the psalmist has caused us to “selah” on quickly changes how our prayers are done, and may bring a mightier picture of who God is to our minds. After all, how is God supposed to get a word in if I won’t stop talking! Prayer time can also easily fall into just another box to check in the morning routine. “A quick forty-five second prayer over my day, and I’m done.” But taking time to selah, slows us down, and strengthens our view of God.

So let us take one instance out of the seventy-four times “selah” is used in the Bible (seventy-one times in Psalms, and three in Habakkuk), and see how different the text reads, as well as our thoughts of God. Here is Psalm 32:7-9. I have removed the selah here.

7.) You are a hiding place for me;

    you preserve me from trouble;

    you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

8.) I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

9.) Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,

    or it will not stay near you.

Now in reading that (especially if we read all of Psalm 32 straight through) we can easily say, “oh that’s nice,”  or  “oh, that’s encouraging.” And it is! But, let us read these verses again, and this time with the selah added. When you get to the selah I want you to stop, close your eyes, and seriously dwell on what you just read for fifteen or twenty seconds at least.

7.) You are a hiding place for me;

    you preserve me from trouble;

    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah.

8.) I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

9.) Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,

    or it will not stay near you.

Does selah not help draw more out? With it added at the end of verse 7, we are left to reflect in awe (for twenty or so seconds, or as long as we desire!) that God delivers us and hides us in His arms when we are troubled or distressed. Then, and what is so beautiful about this psalm, is the response of God in verses 8-9. Because, in our selah, God then speaks to us. He tells us in these two verses that He will continue to teach us and guide us in life. He reveals to us in our quiet reflection that He will be our loving teacher.


Just with selah’s help alone, the text and our spirits are able to work together in harmony. We are invited to reflect on God’s deliverance, and then hear Him tell us that He will continue to teach us wisdom and righteousness. My hope is next time we are reading through the Psalms, or praying to God, that we will stop and reflect on the majesty of God in the way the psalmists have desired us to. Because when we are silent in our prayers and reflections, how much easier is it to hear that still small voice of God?

Selah.

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