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Deep Breath


Several months ago, I began reading through the Psalms one by one with sort of an agenda to understand the truths of God's character a bit more. Yes, it is certainly a book filled with emotive poems that oft hold very raw, uncut words, but that doesn't dismiss the presence of God's tried and true character that is spoken of. As anyone who has ever read the Psalms before can tell you, the word Selah often appears. For the longest time, as I read the Psalms, I just assumed this to be some sort of musical notation for the guys back in the day when they put these poems to music. But I began to notice that this strange word usually appeared at very climactic points of the Psalmists poems. (If this is old news for you, feel free to stop reading).

So, as any good young pupil I began searching the depths of human wisdom...on, you guessed it, Wikipedia :) This is the beginning of the entry on Selah.

"Selah ( Hebrew: סלה) meaning "pause, reflection", within the context of a prayer or psalms, is similar in purpose to Amen in that it stresses the importance of the preceding passage.

In this way, Selah is thought to imply that one should pause and reflect on what has been said. Alternatively, Selah may be a musical notation (thus explaining its use throughout Psalms) or may mean "forever", as it does in some places in the liturgy (notably the second to last blessing of the Amidah)."

Another source says:

"Selah, [celah], is from the primary Hebrew root word [calah] which means 'to hang,' and by implication to measure (weigh). This is readily understood because in Biblical history, money, food and other valuables were 'weighed' by hanging or suspending them on a type of balance (the equivalent of our measuring scale) to determine their value. We find an example of this word [calah] as it is literally translated 'valued,' in the book of Job, indicating that which is measured...Selah...is an illustration that we should 'measure' or value carefully what has just been said."

It makes so much sense now! I'm not even trying to pass myself off as a biblical scholar, but, truly, if you read the Psalms with this understanding of what Selah means (at least I think so), then the Psalms hit you much more heavily. They carry more weight. Or maybe the Psalmist is just trying to prepare us for the weight of words to come?

Take this passage for example. Read it first by just passing over Selah. Then read it again, but stop and take a deep breath at Selah. A bit heavier, eh?

Psalm 3

3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
Selah

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.

7 Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
Selah

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