Selah

This entry is part 423 of 507 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Khoa Lê from Pixabay

What does the word ‘Selah’ in the Bible mean?

Selah is a Hebrew word that no one is completely sure what the word means or what’s expected. It almost exclusively appears in Hebrew poetry, specifically the Psalms. The Psalms are meant to be songs sung by the choir of Israel during worship in the Temple.

Psalms has several authors, including David, the sons of Korah, and other various authors. There are many different types of psalms, but almost all of the different categories contained the Hebrew word selah.

As best we can tell, because it is used in music and poetry, it may mean to take a pause of some sort, a musical rest. As far as the Hebrew poetry side of the text goes, selah may mean to pause and think about the lyrics.

The author may have the intention that the singers may do both, a musical rest and a mental pause to consider the text. It’s often found in places where a mental pause to think about the text fits. The idea presented by the lyrics or poetry seems profound, and a selah is recorded right after these profound parts of the lyric.

Selah could also mean a meditative pause. If the person is not singing the text, but rather reading or meditating upon it, the effect is to stop meditating on the text for a moment. To meditate in Hebrew means to mutter the words, to internalize them through repetition and groaning through the text.

Hebrew has certain poetic and repetitious qualities to it that help meditation and memorization of the text. Selah may be a way to block meditate or block memorize the text and more easily retain it in the memory.

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