The word selah is used seventy-four times in the Hebrew Bible—seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. It is found at the end of Psalms 3, 24, and 46, and in most other cases at the end of a verse, the exceptions being Psalms 55:19, 57:3, and Habakuk 3:3, 9, 13. While the exact meaning of the word is not known, various interpretations are given below:
One meaning is to the effect that it is either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text to “stop and listen.” Selah can also be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm. Some of the Psalms were sung accompanied by musical instruments. Thirty-one of the thirty-nine psalms with the caption “to the choir-master” include the word selah.
An alternate interpretation is that selah is from the primary Hebrew root word ‘calah’ which means to hang and by implication to measure or weigh. This understanding is based on the fact that in Biblical history money and other valuables were ‘weighed’ by hanging them on a balance, as like on scale, to determine their value. So, selah is an instruction to reflect upon the preceding statements.
Perhaps the most instructive way to view the use of this word, particularly in the context of the Psalms, would be as the writer’s instruction to the reader to pause and exalt the Lord. The Amplified Bible translates selah as “pause, and think of that.” It can also be used as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.
In contemporary use, the word selah is used to stress the importance of what has been said, and often is a sort of alternative for the word Amen (Hebrew: “so be it”). It is therefore used to stress the truth and importance of the preceding passage. This interpretation is consistent with the meaning of the Semitic root ṣ-l-ḥ which is in Arabic salih or “valid.”
Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.
In His service,