“Selah” is a word that appears in two books of the Bible- Psalm and Habbakuk up to 74 times. Despite its frequency, there is a great deal of confusion over what it is supposed to mean. One thought is that it derives from two Hebrew words: s_lah, “to praise”; and s_lal, “to lift up.”
Another possibility is that it comes from another word: salah, meaning “to pause.” As a result, there is a belief that because of these two words that“selah” is therefore a musical direction to the singers and/or instrumentalists who performed the Psalms, which was the hymnbook of the Israelites.
If this is true, then each time “selah” appears in a psalm, the musicians paused, either to take a breath, or to sing a cappella or let the instruments play alone. Perhaps they were pausing to praise Him about whom the song was speaking, perhaps even lifting their hands in worship.
This would encompass all these meanings—praise, lift up, and pause.
When we consider the three verses in Habakkuk, we also see how “selah” could mean “to pause and praise.”
This is perhaps my favourite meaning, mostly because right now, I have so many reasons to pause and praise.
A year ago in May, my husband, children and I moved from a home that we had lived in and loved for over 5 years. We had stayed in it, hoping to buy it and despite prayer and promises that this was to be our home, we were unable to secure it and lost it. I was devastated. But I have to trust that God is in control. Despite not knowing what His plan is for a home for us even now, I choose, with all my heart to pause in this- still very painful -time and say: ‘thank you Jesus’, whose plan is bigger than me, whether I see it or not. Selah
Two months after moving out of our much loved house, we were involved in a very serious car accident. The driver who hit us was drunk and careless and nearly took the lives of my beautiful little babies. It felt as though things were going from bad to worse for us and I didn’t understand why. But I remember very clearly as friends and family gathered around us, allowing to mourn and cry and be upset in that moment. And God, in his never ending kindness giving us real moments of rest during that terrible time; to heal, to recover and recharge. To this very day I cannot find the right words to express how held I felt during that very difficult period. All glory to Him. Selah
But as I lay on my hospital bed, unable to walk without the help of a zimmer frame (true story), I began to find healing in writing again. As I recounted the story of my family’s search for home as we fled from a very violent outbreak in our beloved country of Rwanda, God began to heal me from more than the physical wounds that were keeping me immobilised. Selah.
I set out to write the story for my daughter so that she will always know of God’s kindness to her mummy when her mummy was a little girl. It is an honest account of God’s protection and provision in the most unlikely places. I also wrote it in part to escape the devastation that I was feeling, when i realised that I couldn’t walk now or go for a run even, which i’d previously taken for granted or do most of the things that I was previously able to do without help- like being able to pick up my son for a cuddle or cook a meal for my family or jump in the car and drive. I wasn’t even sure that I was going to be able to ever get back behind the wheel- I was that filled with fear. As doctors told me, one after the other, how long my recovery was likely to take, I could see very few reasons then to hope, let alone praise. But I do now. Selah.
When my mind was crumbling under the pressure of post traumatic disorder (PTSD) and I was reliving the scenes of the car accident each time I closed my eyes, Jesus powerfully walked into my room one night when I couldn’t sleep and began to heal me from anxiety, and spoke over me in a way that only He can and afterwards I was able to sleep again after nearly a month of insomnia. I now know Him powerfully as Healer. Thank you Jesus. Selah.
Afterwards a friend began to read my story and loved it- the story that was intended for my daughter and not at all for the public-or so I thought! Miraculously, my friend fell in love with my scribblings and so did a publisher, who rang me shorty after reading it, and while I was still recovering from the effects of the car accident, offered me a contract to publish my story into a book. It is, to this day, the most surreal thing ever. One that I still struggle to process. But nevertheless it is part of this most incredible story that God is writing for me. Giving me beauty for ashes. Selah
In March, as I sat in the surgeons’ room of the Manchester Royal Infirmary’s fracture clinic to hear the words ‘we can now, with confidence, discharge you’, followed by the words ‘you may jog if you wish, but try not to run any marathons’- as I tried, with every fibre of my being to suppress jumping up and down in joy, it was God who had accelerated my healing process. Who was allowing me to run again. On the 22nd May, less than a year after I almost didn’t run again, I was able to take part in the Manchester 10k for the Boaz Trust, and I genuinely felt God run beside me with every step as He reminded me of the miracle of my healing. Selah.
It is from a place of rest that Jesus was able to heal the sick and feed the hungry. he often went away to a quiet place to pray. We don’t read about Jesus being so overtired that He dropped the ball; and yet we so often do it in life, without really stopping and resting with him, before moving on to the next thing.
Lately I feel really challenged, especially for a many heart wearer like me, to learn what it truly means to rest in God. To find times where I pause and calmly think about all that He has done. And I know that there is strength waiting to lift me up when I finally do that. I wonder, what can you pause and be thankful about today?
Even though Habakkuk was not written to be sung, Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 inspires the reader to pause and praise God for His mercy, power, sustaining grace and sufficiency.
Elmer Towns, a Bible commentator and renowned professor in all things Bible in his book ‘Bible answers for almost all your questions’ put it like this:
“Perhaps the best way to think of “selah” is a combination of all these meanings. The Amplified Bible adds “pause and calmly think about that” to each verse where “selah” appears. When we see the word in a psalm or in Habakkuk 3, we should pause to carefully weigh the meaning of what we have just read or heard, lifting up our hearts in praise to God for His great truths. “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.”