As we have been reading through the Psalms together this summer, you have likely stumbled across the word “Selah” in your reading. Selah is a Hebrew word that actually appears 74 times in the bible, with 71 of those instances happening within the Psalms, and the other three occurring within Habakkuk.
Scholars have debated for decades about the actual meaning of the word Selah. There is a general consensus, however, that the word likely means some type of “interlude.” Many have suggested similar definitions like “to pause”, “intermission”, or “silence.” My Western Seminary Professor, Dr. Gerry Breshears, simply put it this way: “think about it.”
Many read this biblical term and just skip over it, because we live in a microwave society that pushes us to eliminate interludes, because time is valuable. But if we believe that every word spoken to us from God via the bible is important (and many would argue inerrant), we should literally pause and “think about it,” because silence holds value too.
and I Peter 1:23
remind us that the Word of God is “alive and active, living and abiding.” Selah is not just a “filler” word, but an important intersection for us as we read the Psalms and as we navigate life.
On a side note, Selah seems to me like the Cinderella of biblical literary terms. It often feels like the forgotten stepchild to its siblings “Amen” and “Hallejuah." Amen is only used 28 times in the Old Testament and Hallelujah 23 times, yet both are noted and spoken with more frequency and regularity than Selah, even though Selah is mentioned almost 3x more often in the OT. Think about it.
There is value in the silence. There is value in the intermission.
, in speaking about Psalm 46:1-3, noted, “In the midst of such a hurly burly, the music may well come to a pause, both to give the singers breath, and ourselves time for meditation. We are in no hurry, but can sit us down and wait while earth dissolves, and mountains rock, and oceans roar. Ours is not the headlong rashness which passes for courage, we can calmly confront the danger, and meditate upon terror, dwelling on its separate items and united forces. The pause is not an exclamation of dismay, but merely a rest in music; we do not suspend our song in alarm, but tune our harps again with deliberation amidst the tumult of the storm. It were well if all of us could say, Selah, under tempestuous trials, but alas! too often we speak in our haste, lay our trembling hands bewildered among the strings, strike the lyre with a rude crash, and mar the melody of our life song.”
In a practical sense, it feels like it would be good for many of us to take a Selah right now. Emotions are raw and we are often quick to fill the space of time and Facebook with our perspectives, opinions, and glaring discomfort. Spurgeon notes that in our rush to fill the space, we can “mar the melody of our life song.”
Psalm 3 is especially powerful in showing us the rhythmic value/importance of Selah.
David states that his foes are against him (Selah), but his trust, hope, and strength lies in God who is his shield and the lifter of his head (Selah), and finally the crescendo reminder that no matter the struggle, we need not be afraid because our salvation and sustenance comes from HIM (Selah).
Cliff note version
Things are bad (pause and acknowledge it), God is here with me (pause and remember it), and God will sustain me because my salvation is in Him (pause and trust it).
That cliff notes version sounds a lot like a Covid-19 version too. As I think about recent world events and the daily challenges that have surrounded us related to illness, isolation, disillusionment, racial tensions, disrespect, fear (and a million other emotions), I am reminded that perspective indeed matters. How quickly I can rush in to save the day with my thoughts, opinions, and insights, rather than taking a quiet Selah to wait on the Lord and ponder what He would have me to do with my limited perspective. In fact, I took a one month Selah before even writing these words you now read, to pause and ensure I was only dancing (writing) when He was leading the way. I did indeed “think about it.”
The psalmist reminds us to pause, to not rush past the lesson in the weightiness/collision of interlude and perspective. A January flight from Indy to Seattle reminded me of this very principle, and the past few months have illuminated a “red flag warning” for me.
As my Delta flight was descending towards SEA-TAC in the early evening, I was struck by the traffic that was stacked together below me along the crowded interstate. Having grown up in a small Midwestern farming community with only one blinking red stoplight, the reality that “I’m not in Kansas (or in my case Indiana) anymore” is always a little unnerving and fascinating to me.
As we glided towards our landing, I watched the cars inching forward in rows, their taillights illuminated in the darkness. The picture I saw gave the impression that all was well in the cars below, as they moved together in a steady and predictable rhythm towards their final destinations. From my perspective, all felt well below me, as I watched the bright taillights stop and start along the road.
But that was only my view from 5,000 feet. Had I been sitting in one of those cars at ground zero, however, my perspective of that situation might have been totally different. That same traffic that looked so synchronized and serene from above, might have been causing great anxiety, anger, fear, or frustration to the one actually sitting in it.
* Perhaps the slow traffic had caused an unemployed Dad to miss a job interview
* Perhaps an anxious single momma was longing to get home to her ill child and the traffic was delaying that need
* Maybe a man was fearful his car was going to run out of gas before he got home, thus delaying him from seeing his kids before bedtime
* Maybe a woman had just left an appointment and had been told news that would change her life forever, and traffic was keeping her from her very needed support system
My perspective is only as good as the window I stare out of, not knowing any of what is happening at ground zero. I admit I often disregard the need to understand in my haste to be understood. When I truly paused that January evening—SELAH—to contemplate the perspective of those in the cars below me; those who might be in the midst of painful illness, painful loss, painful encounters, painful histories, and painful scars, I gained valuable perspective in the pause. I was humbly reminded that my knowledge is limited, my perspective is finite, and I’m never really seeing the “whole picture” I think I am, because scripture reminds us that we ALL only know in part (I Corinthians 13
You may be sitting in the 5,000 foot window seat and your neighbor, Pastor, son, coworker or a total stranger might be sitting at ground level. Can we not be in such a hurry to dismiss the perspective of another? Can we pause and consider that their perspectives might look and feel radically different than our own, and that’s actually okay? Can we think the best of them even in the midst of our differing perspectives?
Isn’t that exactly what Paul was reminding us to do in Colossians 3:11b-12
when he prompted us to remember that “Christ is all and in all,"
and then instructed us to “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”
“…but tune our harps again with deliberation amidst the tumult of the storm.”
Think about it