You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

Psalm 32:7 (NRSV)

Can you read music? It’s an impressive gift. Not only are there lots of tricky notes to follow, but there are lots of directions, too. Words like adagio, or forte show up on the sheet music, and you have to know what they mean to play a piece correctly.

There is a word, Selah, that occurs in the Bible 74 times. 71 of those times are in the book of Psalms (the others are in Habakkuk), and the word typically appears in Psalms that have the subtitle, “to the choir-master”. These psalms were meant to be sung by a chorus, with instruments and full accompaniment.

The problem? We have no idea what Selah means. It appears after certain lines, like the one above, but there is no explanation of its significance. And so, some translations of the Bible (like the NIV) actually remove Selah from the scripture, putting it instead as a footnote. Others (like the NRSV) keep the word in, but there is no definitive explanation of what the word means.

There are some educated guesses, however. Because the word appears so often in choir-related Psalms, there is an assumption that Selah is a musical direction. Many think the term is an instruction to “wait and listen”, perhaps between lines or while an instrumental passage is played.

I like to think that’s what Selah means. A moment’s pause, to appreciate the weight of the words or music. I, for one, prefer Bible translations to leave the word in — it obviously meant something to those who wrote it down, and even if we can’t fully decode what it means, we can at least ascertain that it’s some sort of break, a transition, a moment of import.

When you read the Psalms, or pray, or reflect on the presence of God in your life, do you insert Selah into weighty moments? Instead of just scanning the words or letting your thoughts pour out at a frenetic pace, do you take time to observe an occasional pause?

Musicians will tell you that it’s the pause or the silence in between the notes that give music its true beauty and expression. The same is true for our daily lives. Take time for Selah, to stop and listen, and your life will resonate more fully.

The notes and words are important,

but so are the rests.



2 thoughts on “Selah

  1. Beautiful! Thank you! You are correct that there are a lot of directions in music. If you do not speak Italian, or are at least familiar with the music terms and symbols, you will be lost. Music is not just the notes on the page. Music is also in the directions. However, the most important part of music comes from the heart. One may play a piece technically well, but if there’s no heart (or no love) it is not beautiful. Music from the heart, along with technical prowess is most enjoyable.


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