As a musician, you know the importance of scratching notes on your chord charts during rehearsal – get loud here, don’t play at this spot, remember the key change. Your worship leader or choir director likes it when you do that because it means that you’re paying attention and maybe, just maybe, things might go according to plan on Sunday morning.
If you’ve spent any time in the Psalms, you’ve seen the same kind of note scratched in to a few of the chapters of that book. Have you ever seen the word selah in the middle or at the end of a psalm and wondered what it means?
Our best guess is that the placement of selah was an instruction to the choirmaster to have the song (remember, psalms are songs not poems) stop for a moment to let the people think about what they‘d just sung or heard. The choir would sing a couple of lines and then selah – stop and listen! A few more lines and another selah – stop and listen!
Psalm 3 is a great example of how this stopping and listening increases the impact of the text. Have someone read Psalm 3 out loud and give a few seconds when you get to the selah moments before continuing.
Psalm 3 (ESV)
O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Selah
The content of the psalm itself is incredible – the anguish of David as he’s fleeing from his enemies; the continued hope he has that God is good and hears his cry; the affirmation that God can still save and bless and sustain despite David’s uncertainty and fear. There is a deep fountain of encouragement that comes from this psalm for anyone seeking to follow God in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
But don’t miss the importance of the three selah moments which happen here in Psalm 3. Don’t disregard the instruction to stop and listen at each of these spots. Have you ever heard or said something like what David hears in verse 1? “There is no salvation for him in God!” Ouch. Of course we don’t believe that to be true – God’s love overcomes every sin, every wicked deed, every act of brokenness – but we’ve maybe thought that before, haven’t we? “Wow. I’m not really sure God could save someone like them. I’m not sure God could use a life like that. I’m not sure there’s any salvation for him in God.” Selah.
Selah. Stop and listen. Ask the Spirit to examine your heart. You may need to ask him to renew your love for those around you, those who seem so far from God that He could never save.
And there’s good news to come. God hears us when we cry to Him! Yes, He may seem far but He is also near. As near as a shield to protect us, He lifts our head when we’re weary and tired and overcome. He answers us when we call to Him. Selah. Stop and listen. Do you know that God is near to you? Are you crying out to Him? Are you listening for His answer?
David continues to be in fear, continues to see his enemies and at the same time continues to exalt God in the middle of all of it. More good news! Our God saves! Not only does He protect us and answer us when we call, He saves! He rescues! He pulls us out of the pit, defeats our enemies, protects us from evil and saves us from our sin. All of it – He does it! Salvation belongs to Him! What a blessing He pours out on His people. Selah. Stop and listen. Do you recognize the blessing of salvation in your life? How has He rescued you? Do you need Him to be your protector?
As you gather with your worship team, remember to take selah moments together. Times where you can simply stop and listen to the words you are singing or hearing. Listen to His Spirit. Be reminded of His goodness and His love for you. Cry out to God and remember His blessings.