July 13, 2017

One Mysterious Word (Selah)

Whodunnit?? Long before the 2013 TV show of the same name, this was a popular term referring to murder mysteries. I whiled away many an hour as a youngster reading Hound of the Baskervilles and other Sherlock Holmes stories, and I have also thoroughly enjoyed recent American and British TV interpretations of the character as well. Sherlock has a knack for making keen observations and stringing together tiny, seemingly insignificant details to solve the most puzzling of cases.

If only he were a real person, we might call upon Holmes’ services to uncover the truth of one the most mysterious words found in the Bible: selah. As it stands, Bible scholars today still do not know for certain what this word means, though we certainly have several ideas about it.

The Homan Illustrated Bible Dictionary has this to say about selah: “Term of unknown meaning… Scholars have advanced various unprovable theories: a pause either for silence or musical interlude; a signal for the congregation to sing, recite, or fall prostrate on the ground; a cue for the cymbals to crash; a word to be shouted by the congregation; or a sign to the choir to sing a higher pitch or louder.”

Not much help there.

From the Illustrated Bible Handbook: “The exact purpose of the term… simply is not known. The word means “to lift up” and is probably some kind of pause mark or musical signal.”

Scholars really can’t agree! There is one common idea though, and that’s music. Why? Because all 74 appearances of selah in the Bible are in songs! 71 times it appears in the book of Psalms, and 3 times in Habakkuk chapter 3, which is actually a psalm, or song of praise. This might explain the odd entry for selah in Strong’s concordance, defining the term as: “a twig (as pendulous).” A conductor swinging his baton comes to my mind, and a conductor would indeed make a “lifting” type of motion to cut off the choir or orchestra. Such an indicator might also cue the performers to lift up their eyes from the music to watch the conductor more closely.

I believe it is safe to say that selah was originally a musical term, and probably did indicate a pause – possibly for the singers to remain silent during an instrumental interlude. However, there must surely be another reason that this odd word was preserved along with the lyrics of the psalms in scripture. Keep in mind, no musical notation has survived from the time when the psalms were written. Why then would God have us preserve this word if it means nothing beyond musical cues?

The lesson may be in the interruption which the word causes. Every time selah appears, it interrupts our reading.

If God has never interrupted your life with something unexpected, you are a rare case indeed. God interrupts us for various reasons; perhaps to teach us a well-deserved lesson; maybe to make us reevaluate a decision or plan; or sometimes to simply get our attention and let us know that He is still on His throne.

If selah indicates a pause, and I believe it does, then right there in the middle of whatever we are doing (even when we are praying or praising God), we are to stop, listen, and reflect on what God is saying. Other scripture would seem to support this notion:

Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10
Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord commands… ~ Numbers 9:8
Stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God. ~ 1Samuel 9:27

Each of these instances require us to pause, to be still, to stop and listen to what God wants to tell us, instead of continually moving forward with our own plans and projects. God may even interrupt out prayers and praises in order to have us listen. It is in these moments when we stop and clear our minds that God can speak to us most directly, intimately, and powerfully.

It is fitting that selah appears only in the music of the Bible. Any musician (including the violin-playing Sherlock Holmes) will tell you that the most important thing to do when making music is to listen. Each individual listens to hear what the rest of the group is doing so that we can better understand how our parts fit together within the entire ensemble.

We should approach life in much the same way: listen more than we speak, looking beyond ourselves to see how our lives affect other people. Most importantly, we have to listen to God, the Great Conductor, who alone knows exactly how the symphony of His creation should sound.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Support Living In The Bible - Your donations help spread God's word to the ends of the Earth!