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Selah
by Glenn Pettit
08/07/10
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Psalms 3
1 A Psalm of David When He Fled from Absalom His Son.
LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
2 Many are they who say of me,
"There is no help for him in God." Selah

3 But You, O LORD, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
4 I cried to the LORD with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah

5 I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.

7 Arise, O LORD;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
---

We don't know a whole lot about ancient Hebrew music, and much of what we do know is found right here in the Psalms. Here and there we read that a psalm is set to a particular tune, or that certain instruments are to be used. Scholars are fairly certain that the ancient Israelites didn't sing in harmonies, that they only sang on one melody, and no one has yet found any sort of musical notation recorded anywhere. We have a pretty good notion of the kinds of instruments that were used, such as trumpets and rams horns, cymbals and harps. And here and there we find in the Hebrew psalms a few words that seem to indicate something musical, but the meanings of those words have been lost over time. There is, however, one word whose meaning, although not certain, seems fairly clear: Selah.

"Selah" is a word we have taken to mean for us to stop, to pause, and even to reflect on what has just been said. The word occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms. Because many modern readers have not been informed about the use of "Selah," they tend to gloss over it and read straight through the lines they are reading. But like the caesura of contemporary poetry--a forced pause often signified by punctuation--"Selah" and the pause it denotes are part of the psalm, part of how we are meant to read the Psalms.

Outside of the Psalms, we only see "Selah" used three times, all in chapter 3 of Habakkuk. But there are other places that the Bible causes us to pause and reflect. Look at this passage and see if you remember what is missing:

---
John 11
Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there." Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."
And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"
---

It seem pretty straightforward, this little scene leading toward Lazarus' tomb, but something is missing, something that normally causes us to pause and reflect.

---
John 11:31-37
Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there." Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"
---

Those two simple word--"Jesus wept"--and the reaction of the people around Jesus, those are as much a "Selah" as anything in the Psalms.

Looking at Psalms 3 today, we can see where and why David asked for people to pause and reflect. Look at the thoughts and how they are divided. In acting, we call those "beats"--discrete units of thought and feeling.

The first beat is David expressing his alarm at how his enemies had risen up against him, and how they mocked the Lord.

Selah.

The second beat is David saying that he relied on God's strength and protection, and God heard and preserved him.

Selah.

The third and final beat is David reaffirming his reliance on God's salvation, telling God and the people that he can rest easy because God will strike down His enemies.

Selah.

Pause and reflect on those ideas. We can be alarmed at the enemies who seem to have risen up around us, and we may feel some fear at their accusations. The thought expressed in verse 2 is one that David often notes about his enemies, that they don't believe the Lord will save His chosen ones. (Psalms 42 & 71) David is using "Selah" to tell us to let that sink in, to remember that feeling of frustration and fear and anxiety.

But then move on and see that God is good, that He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. (Joshua 1:5) David was God's anointed king of Israel long before he ever sat on the throne in Jerusalem, and despite all David's troubles and persecutions and sins, God was faithful in protecting him. Chew on that for a while. Remember that David was never truly out of God's care.

And finally, let us rest in the blessed assurance that God will watch over us and give us rest, that our burdens will be His. (Matthew 11:28)

---
Isaiah 45:22
"Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other."
---

David's final thought sums up the whole psalm so nicely, so let us reflect on it again:

"Salvation belongs to the LORD.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah"

Pause.
Reflect.
Remember.

Rest in the salvation of the Lord. Abide in His righteousness. Take a break from worry and doubt and fear.

---
Psalms 34:8
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
---

Selah.

Take a moment right now to meditate on the Lord's goodness, to consider all that He has done and has promised to do. Jesus Christ came among us to cause the whole world to pause and reflect. Jesus used His gentle love, His fiery conviction, His humble obedience, His patient teaching, His death on the Cross to make us pause, to make us stop for a moment and consider the love of God. After His death, the world waited, not knowing that the thought was not finished, not realizing that those three days were really just...

Selah.

And then the salvation of God was revealed in the bodily resurrection of the Lamb of God. What the apostles and disciples had not understood before was now made clear to them. Their three years of ministry with Jesus were brought into focus after a pause of three days, a period during which they could reflect on their work, a time when they could consider what had just happened and what roles they each had played. And when the Son of God appeared again, they knew. The thoughts and meditations of their hearts were solidified, and the Scriptures were opened to them as never before. Then, when Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Do you love Me?", then this man who had thrice denied the Christ, he was able to say three times with confidence and honesty, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." (John 21:15-17)

God's blessings are upon His people, brought to us through the saving work of the only Son of God. Reflect upon our lives before we knew Christ. Pause and consider all that we were before the Son of Man appeared. Meditate upon how lost we once were.

Selah.

Remember God's mercy and grace. Remember the glory of God revealed in Christ. Meditate on God's faithfulness and love. Consider His strength and His protection and His promises. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) Break from the hurry and worry of this world, remove yourself from the race, and rest in the Lord. Rest in His salvation, rest in His mercy, rest in His abundant life. Selah.

The Lord God Himself instituted the Sabbath, a time of rest, a time to stop all the business of life and consider what lies before us. (Genesis 2:1-3) Throughout Scripture, Selah is written in the daily life of God's servants, times for them to stop, to pause, to meditate on God's goodness. Today, whether we see "Selah" written in the words we read, whether we find that break, that pause woven into the fabric of God's Word, let us nonetheless reflect upon what we read. Take a moment to consider what we see in the Bible. Let us not just read God's Word in big sections and expect to understand it all at once. Let us instead look at the beats, the thoughts and ideas. Slow down. Pause. Reflect. Remember. Consider. Selah.

Holy Lord God, You have written Selah into the very fabric of Creation--with the calm before the storm, the moment of silence before the sunrise, the anticipation of birth, the shallow breaths before death. You, Father, have given us the time--however short--to reflect upon Your works, to rest in Your salvation. Though this mortal coil may last but for a while, yet we rest in the assurance of our eternal salvation and life in Jesus Christ. We lay down our burdens, we set aside worldly concerns, and we now take the time to consider all that Your hands have made, and all that You have done and will do for us that we deserve only because You have ordained it. Selah. I take a breath, O Lord, and reflect upon Your mercy. I cannot help but weep at Your ever-abundant grace. Selah. Precious Lord, I do love Thee above all things. Amen.

© 2010 Glenn A. Pettit-Noel


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