What Does Selah Mean in the Bible?

The true meaning of Selah in the Bible is a mystery. Bible Scholars have come up with multiple meanings and possible explanations for the meaning of the word.
Penny Noyes
What Does Selah Mean in the Bible?

The true meaning of Selah in the Bible is a mystery. Bible Scholars have come up with multiple meanings and possible explanations for the meaning of the word.

Selah Definition

The New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon defines the Hebrew word (סֶֽלָה) as “to lift up, exalt.”

Some scholars believe that Selah was a musical notation possibly meaning "silence" or "pause;" others, "end," "a louder strain," "piano," etc. Still others think it is similar to a musical interlude, “a pause in the voices singing, while the instruments perform alone.”  

Selah is translated as “intermission” in the Septuagint (LXX) which is the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint is significant because it was completed in 2nd Century BCE and was quoted by the Apostle Paul.

Where is Selah in the Bible?

Selah occurs 74 times in the Bible. It occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. It is found in the poetical books of the Old Testament. “Thirty-one of the thirty-nine Psalms that include the word Selah are titled, ‘to the choirmaster,’ which seems to connect this word to musical notation,” according to this Crosswalk article.

Due to the confusion around the meaning of Selah, Bible translators have translated it in different ways.

The King James Version, the English Standard Version, and the New American Standard Version transliterate the Hebrew word phonetically. For example, the King James Version of Psalm 68:19 ends with “Selah.”

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.”

But in the New Living Translation of Psalm 68:19 Selah is translated as “Interlude.” 

“Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Interlude.”

In the New International Version, a footnote is used at the end of the verse.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. (fn) Footnote: The Hebrew has Selah (a word of uncertain meaning) at the end of verses 7, 19 and 32.”

How should I read passages with the word Selah in them?

Since we don’t exactly know what Selah means, you could skip over it, as the translators of the NIV do, without losing the meaning of the passage.

You could also follow the model laid out by translators of the Septuagint who translated it as an intermission. Use Selah to take a pause to think about what the Scripture says - to reflect on the meaning of the verse before continuing to read the rest of the passage. Selah.

Sources

Penny Noyes, M.Ed. is the author of Embracing Change - Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden


Originally published April 24, 2019.