What is the meaning of the word Selah in the Bible?
The Hebrew word Selah occurs seventy-one times in the book of Psalms and three times in the book of Habakkuk. Therefore, the word appears to be significant. But what is the meaning of the word Selah in the Bible?
Selah Does Not Mean Exalted or Lifted Up
The first time Selah appears in the Bible is in Psalm 3:2 and it occurs three times in this Psalm.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah.
Psalm 3:2 (NASB)
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.
Psalm 3:4 (NASB)
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.
Psalm 3:8 (NASB)
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance states that the word means “lifted up or exalt.” But most Hebrew scholars do not agree. It should be noted that Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is not the most precise resource for determining the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words. Therefore, we must look elsewhere for a more accurate and scholarly resource to determine the meaning of this word.
Selah’s Meaning Is Uncertain
The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains states that the meaning of Selah is unknown but appears to be a marker used in music or reading.
Selah: an unknown musical or liturgical marker.
The Jewish Study Bible indicates the meaning of this Hebrew word is uncertain and does not speculate about the meaning.
The New International Commentary of the Old Testament states that the meaning of the word is unknown.
The meaning of selah is uncertain, although it appears to be a liturgical direction of some sort . . . In light of a Persian cognate meaning “song,” Koehler-Baumgartner concludes “probably a technical term . . . concerning the style of music or recitation” (HALOT, 3:756). Cf. also Kaus, Psalms 1-59, pp. 27-29; Craige, Psalms 1-50, pp. 76-77.
The Hebrew scholar Derek Kidner suggests that Selah was a signal to the musicians for a pause or a change.
Probably it is the signal for an interlude (cf. LXX) or change of musical accompaniment.
Then the author proceeds to explain that the word cannot mean “to lift up” because the basis for this conclusion is drawn from an Aramaic word that has a different meaning.
Finally, Harris, Archer and Waltke state,
A term of unknown meaning, probably of musical significance, occurring 71 times in the Psalms and also in Habituate 3:3, 9, 13. Many are the conjectures as to its meaning, but nothing certain is known.
Therefore, it appears that the word was a technical term which provided direction to the musicians. It may have been a signal for an interlude or change of musical accompaniment. But we do not know what direction was implied to the musicians. What is certain is that most likely Selah does not mean to exalt, to lift up or “amen.”
Consequently, Selah should be ignored when reading the Psalms or Habakkuk. The word most likely provided direction to the musicians much like modern musical terms on a sheet of music do today.
1. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
2. Michael Fishbane. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 1316.
3. Walford et al. The Book of Psalms. The New International Commentary of the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 2014. p. 73.
4. Derek Kidner. Psalms 1-72. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Inter-Varsity Press. 1973. pp. 36-37.
5. Harris et al. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Mood Press. 1980. vol. 2, . 627.