Q. What does “selah” mean? Why is it used?
A. The word selah appears 71 times in Psalms, and 3 times in Habakkuk. The meaning is obscure, so many versions including the popular ESV, KJV, NASB etc. simply transliterated rather than translate it, or skipped it altogether e.g. NIV.
The Hebrew lexicon definition is rest or silent. Some scholars view this as a technical musical term showing accentuation or interruption. They see this as a short pause in singing the words of the psalm, so that the singer would be silent, while the instrumental music continued. Support for this view comes from the Greek OT LXX which translated selah as daplasma i.e. a division. Several contemporary versions also hold this position by translating selah as interlude, including:
• EHV Evangelical Heritage Version,
• EXB Extended Bible,
• ISV International Standard Version,
• NLT New Living Translation, and
as pause in the Voice.
Others view this selah as “to lift up, exalt“:
• AMP Amplified Bible translates it as “pause, and calmly think of that!”, while
• TPT The Passion Translation has it as “pause in His presence“.
View 1 is actually contained in view 2, but either one would fit the context of the 74 times this word appears in the Bible.
Why is it used? Probably simply to ask the reader to reflect on what he is reading. Don’t rush through God’s word. Stop and think how it applies to you.