This post was contributed by Jeremiah Chandler, former intern at Sho.resh. We are so excited to have him share with us today!
I recently ate at a less-than-fancy restaurant with my family and friends the other day. Our kind waitress led us to our table, while my father made jovial small talk. After being sat in a spacious booth, she kindly hands us the menus, takes our drink orders, and turns away from the table to return to her other tasks. Just before she completely leaves our sight, she turns around and chimes, “My name is Selah if you have any questions.”
The Meaning of Selah
Selah, the word that appears throughout the Psalms (71 times to be exact!), pronounced “see-lah,” is not simply a noun but an exclamation. If simply reading the word through the Bible so many times had not peaked my interest already, I now had to learn more about this word.
After our waitress returned with our drinks, I asked about her name. She responded, saying that it meant something about resting and listening. One of my friends at the table admired the beauty of her name, and then the waitress departed once again. I always considered Selah to simply be a pause, time to reflect on what I previously read, but I still wanted to know more!
The Hebrew language defines Selah to mean a musical interlude, processing the previously sung notes, or pausing for a visual demonstration. The first thing that stands out to me is the lack of self-assertion. Instead of immediately allowing my previous associations of what I just read standing at the forefront of my mind, I must, instead, create space for newness and refreshing insight. The idea behind this definition of Selah demands that we pay attention to what was just said. Before I respond with any “but’s,” “what if’s,” or simply trample over the pause, maybe I should stop and meditate on the words just said.
Selah in Psalm 3
Selah appears three different times in Psalm 3, and each time it does, it follows a statement of enormous magnitude. At the time of writing this Psalm, David’s son, Absalom, recently overthrew his father’s leadership as King. Many of the Israelites turned their back on David and listened to the deceptive but enticing call of his son. David adored his son, but even after showing him much grace, Absalom sought to kill his father. Basically, horrid circumstances filled David’s life at the time he wrote Psalm 3. David says it himself,
“Lord, how many are my foes…many are saying of my soul 'There is no salvation for him in God.'"
After that despairing statement, we find that little word, “Selah.” We continue reading:
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me…I cried to the Lord and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”
And then a third time:
“You strike my enemies on the cheek…salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Selah”
I do not know about you, but those last two warrant a “BOOM mic drop.” Yet, the first time we see Selah, it follows a sorrowful statement. According to the definition of Selah by the Hebrew language, we must rest in the despair and hopeless circumstances. The first time I read this psalm after knowing more context about Selah, I rested in David’s sorrow. Truly, it appears that the world stood against him.
Yet, we cannot forget that the definition demands that we wait for a visual demonstration, as well. God promises His protection to His people in Israel. In the book of Isaiah, God declares to “not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you…” God already promised His protection and His mighty hand to guide us. Guyssss!! That is amazing news! Selah tells us to simply rest on that promise and wait for Him to be faithful to His word. We must rest on the truth! Throughout the entire Old Testament, God makes many promises to His people, ultimately revealing His faithfulness. He is more than dependable, and thankfully, you do not have to just take my word for it.
Moreover, how much sweeter is it to read “the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid…” after seeing the seemingly impossible situation? How much greater do the truths of our God appear when seeing the overwhelming troubles of the world? I found that it is okay to pause and Selah in our despair. But for each heartache we acknowledge, God offers a thousand triumphant truths to rest in.
What Does Selah mean to You?
As you begin to explore the word Selah for yourselves, I encourage you to understand the context of the scripture. Knowing the extent that David suffered grants such a better comprehension of Psalm 3. David’s praises and acknowledgments of God’s awesome power seem even more radical knowing that his own son pursued his death, not to mention the rest of the kingdom.
So my friends, take some time and rest. If one theme seems to repeat itself this summer, it would be to pause, reflect, and be.
Stop and smell the roses. Selah.
P.S. Want to find out more about those promises God makes to his people? Check out our Bible study on “The Promises of God”! I cannot tell you how important it is to understand the power behind the promise God made to us in the New Covenant. Check it out here!
P.P.S. Because this blog seems to be related, I encourage you guys to check out another post I did on meditation and some tips on how to do it well!