“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” Psalm 46:11
Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant. You may have even heard it as the name of a popular contemporary Christian group. It is believed to be a choral or musical notation and seems to indicate a dramatic pause in the music. I discovered in the Amplified Bible, a version that gives word translations that deepen the meaning of the text, that this word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that.” John Phillips says it means “to pause and lift up”; [and] can be freely rendered: ‘There! What do you think of that?’” The word and these translations intrigued me, so I began hunting through the Psalms (and Habakkuk) for the occurrences of Selah.
Much of the times we see Selah the writers are declaring God’s blessing, kindness, protection and deliverance on behalf of His people. It is frequently used as the Psalmist reminds himself and the nation to trust in the Lord:
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Trust in Him at all time, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 62:5-6, 8)
You will see Selah often in Psalms praising God for His great victories, power and might:
“O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories You give! You have granted him the desire of his heart and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah” (Psalm 21:1-2).
It often became part of a cry to the Lord for help, comfort and mercy.
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).
Imagine that you are part of the nation of Israel, and your enemies are surrounding the city. You gather your children to your side and pray for strength and safety. Then the prophet of the Lord stands high above the crowd and proclaims:
“Lord, we have heard of Your fame; we stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day.” You rode with Your horses and Your victorious chariots. You uncovered Your bow and You called for many arrows. You came out to deliver Your people; You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness” (Habakkuk 3: 3, 8-9, 13). Then he pronounces the Selah – “Pause and calmly think about that.”
To your frightened people, the reminder of God’s power and might on the nation’s behalf brings renewed courage and hope. As you stop and calmly think about the prophet’s words you realize that God had been faithful before, and He will be faithful again.
Selah is such a beautiful and powerful reminder to us that the Bible – all of God’s Word – should be received with such depth and thought. God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and ponder. There is nothing you will face in your life that is not spoken to in the Scriptures. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.
To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think calmly about that.
To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). Pause and calmly think about that.
To the saint drawing her final breath: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43.) Pause and calmly think about that.
To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and calmly think about that.
When the enemy is pressing in on you: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). To borrow from John Phillips: There! What do you think about that?
Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction or chastisement is meant to be examined and pondered and remembered. God intends for you to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them. Make them personal – put your name in the verses, let them speak to you and about you. The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). How might it transform your heart and life if you came to God’s Word each day with the intent to pause and really think about what He is saying?
Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24). I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”
Holy Father, You have said “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). You have promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Jesus, You have vowed “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). Oh what sweet joy to pause and calmly think about that. Amen.
 John Phillips, The John Phillips Commentary Series: Exploring Psalms, Volume One, An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2002) 14.