Faith & Wisdom

The Meaning Of Selah And Why It Matters

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Date Published:
July 1, 2021

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Summary

Have you ever read a few chapters in the Bible and wondered if you really remembered much of what you read? 

Christians are sometimes guilty of reading the Bible in an attempt to fill their time rather than to gain knowledge. To gain insight into God’s word, we need to understand what it means. In the end, if what we’re reading doesn't sink in, it won’t accomplish much. 

For these reasons, we should devote ourselves to Bible study instead of superficial readings of the Bible. 

‘Selah’ is one of those words in the Bible we tend to overlook. It's a word that we glance at in the Psalms without giving it more thought. 

So what’s the real meaning of the word?

In this article, we’ll go over the meaning of Selah and why it matters.

What is the definition of Selah?

According to the Hebrew Bible, Selah is a word that appears at the end of a verse or paragraph, most often in Psalms.

It’s often debated what the etymology of the root word is, but it's typically thought of as a possible musical notation for choirmasters. 

Psalms are used as songs, and Selah is considered a musical term that directs the congregation in a particular musical direction. It’s also seen as a time for contemplation of the words written in the Psalms. 

inside of a church


Due to the lack of a specific definition for the word, it's hard to translate into English. So instead, we use a transliteration. 

When a Hebrew word is translated into an English word that means the same thing, we call it a translation. For example, since the Hebrew word erets and the English word earth have the same meaning, we translate it as ‘earth.’ 

Transliteration is the process of sounding out a Hebrew word in English, so we can read it and pronounce it. Hallelujah is a good example. Hallelujah is a transliteration of the Hebrew word that means "praise God" (hallelujah means praise, jah means God). 

As opposed to translating it as "praise God," this word has been left for us to say out loud in the original Hebrew, as it’s a powerful expression of worship. The fact that Selah is transliterated and not translated does not affect its importance. 

In fact, it signifies that we pronounce the word similarly to how the original speakers and writers did thousands of years ago. 

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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 interpretations and meanings for this word, despite its inability to be translated with certainty.

Due to the confusion around the meaning of Selah, Bible translators have translated it in different ways. Oddly enough, in Greek the word Selah is diapsalma, or "apart from psalm." Which is even more confusing and enigmatic than it’s Hebrew counterpart.

However, we do know that Selah was an important word due to the number of times it was used. 

The word Selah is found in the poetic books of the Old Testament. It occurs 74 times in the Bible — 71 times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. 

closeup of the book of Psalms


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

“Blessed be the Lord who daily loaded 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.” This could mean a musical interlude, considering the Psalms are often used as hymns. 

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. Footnote: The Hebrew has Selah (a word of uncertain meaning) at the end of verses 7, 19, and 32.”

Modern scholars may have struggled with the meaning behind the word, but today we use Selah in reverence for God. 

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Selah verses in the Bible

The word Selah in the Bible typically shows up in the book of Psalms. 

Here are the verses from Psalm 3, for example:

“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me, many are saying of my soul, there's no salvation for him in God. Selah. 

  • “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah.
  • “I lay down and slept, I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I won't be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek, you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord, your blessing be on your people! Selah.”

The word amen is clearly used at the end of a prayer and has been for centuries. But Selah is a word used purely in the Psalms and in song. 

Apart from the word amen, which has a clear etymology and purpose, Selah is one word we may never truly understand.

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Blessings, be on your people, Selah!

Even though Selah is a small word, it can have a significant impact on our spiritual growth.

Words like Selah create periodic pauses for contemplation. Meditation on the verses and asking the Heavenly Father to show us what we can learn from them will help us to reflect on God's will. 

If a verse doesn’t sink into our hearts, we can reread it several times or say it aloud. Using the Lord's guidance, we can seek to understand the meaning of some of the words we may not understand. 

We can look up other verses that cover the same subject by cross-referencing them, and if we ask God for guidance, we can apply those scriptures to our lives.  

For more information on Bible verses, download the pray.com app in the iOS App Store or Google Play

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