Word of the day: Selah

According to the relevant Wikipedia page, Selah is a word used 74 times in the Hebrew Bible – 71 times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. The meaning of the word is not known, but it is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like “stop and listen.” It can also be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.

At least some of the Psalms were sung accompanied by musical instruments and there are references to this in many chapters. Thirty-one of the thirty-nine psalms with the caption “To the choir-master” include the word selah. So Selah may indicate a break in the song whose purpose is similar to that of Amen (Hebrew: “so be it”) in that it stresses the truth and importance of the preceding passage. Alternatively, selah may mean “forever,” as it does in some places in the liturgy (notably the second to last blessing of the Amidah. Still another interpretation claims that selah comes from the primary Hebrew root word salah which means “to hang,” and by implication to measure (weigh).

I came across this word for the first time when I bought the new CD by Emili Sande called “Long Live The Angels” and found that the opening track is called ‘Selah’. You can read the words here.


  • Roger Darlington

    A friend has sent me the results of his researches:

    Hi Roger.

    You really got me thinking about the word “Selah”, and made me research it.

    I do sincerely hope that this is of some help to you, rather than just a waste of time reading it.

    My first thought was “weapons”. A weapon in Arabic is called Selah.
    It can also mean an Arsenal.

    Also fighting with “Selah Abbayad” means “White Weapon or Weapons”. This is a reference to when 2 warring factions meet face to face and guns are rendered useless. Both factions resort to using Knives or Blades attached to guns.

    But this 1st thought did NOT make any sense to me.
    So I consulted my Library (English & Arabic Bibles printed in 1889 & 1946)

    Going by Habkkouk 1:12 According to the “Authorized King James Version”

    “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgement: and, O mighty God, thou hast established them from correction.”

    Exactly the same words are in a Bible printed in 1889 – Price 2 Shillings

    So, I referred to my Arabic Bible – Printed in Great Britain & presented to my Mother by her Auntie on 25th December 1944, when my Mother was 17 years old.

    The word used in my Arabic Bible is “Sakhr”, which means Large “Rocks” or heavy chunks of Stone.
    But when I used my English Bible, the word “Selah” was NOT to be seen.

    Instead the words “O Mighty God” are used, implying that “mighty God” is as “Solid as a Rock”.
    Please excuse my naive interpretation.

    The above 3 Bibles are in my Possession for reference & verification.

  • Marjorie Darlington

    In my Grandma’s Bible of 1886, sela means rest or silence

  • Roger Darlington

    An American friend has drawn my attention this comment:

    “Klein accepts the opinion that sulam derives from סלל, which he translates as “to lift up, to cast up”, and connects to the Akkadian sullu – highway. One of the derivatives of סלל is the interjection סלה – “Selah”. It appears often in Tehillim (Psalms) and in the book of Habbakuk as well. Klein says it is “probably a musical direction to raise the voice and derived from סלל (= to raise, to lift).”


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