What Does Selah Mean? A Bible Study

by Pamela Rose Williams · Print Print · Email Email

Selah is one of those curious terms that is found in the Bible. It is a term that we researched when we founded Selah Mountain Ministries in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I would like to share with you what we found and encourage you to open your Bible as I answer the question: What does Selah mean?

Psalm 66:4 “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah. “

Selah from the Hebrew

The Strong’s concordance lists the following to define Selah: [1]

5541: celah seh’-law; suspension (of music), i.e. pause.

5553: ragged rock, stony, strong hold.
From an unused root meaning to be lofty; a craggy rock, literally or figuratively (a fortress) — (ragged) rock, stone(-ny), strong hold.

5554: rock, Selah
A city in Edom. The same as cela’; Sela, the rock-city of Idumaea — rock, Sela(-h).

A correct pronunciation of the word is SEE LAH rather than a popular pronunciation of SAY LAH.

In the Bible it is almost always used as denoted by the Hebrew definition – as a pause such as at the end of a verse or the end of a Psalm. In modern times many believe it was originally a musical term placed to cause one to pause because 31 of the 39 Psalms that contain this word have a salutation “To the chief Musician”. Some say it means to pause and meditate upon what you just read or heard.

Selah and the Mountain

The first time we see the word Selah in the Bible is in 2 Kings 14:7. More correctly translated as “Sela” it refers to a strong city and even the capital city of Edom which is surrounded by mountains. The Arabic equivalent is known as “Petra”, also called so by the Greeks and in English we know it to mean rock.[2]

Selah: Lofty, craggy, ragged rock.

Selah: Lofty, craggy, ragged rock.

The Rock in the Bible

He slew of Edom in the valley of salt ten thousand, and took Selah by war, and called the name of it Joktheel unto this day. (2 Kings 14:7)

Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion. (Isaiah 16:1)

Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. (Isaiah 42:11)

Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom? (Psalm 60:9)

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom; We have heard a rumour from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. (Obadiah 1:1)

Selah and a Pause

No doubt the most popular and most frequently occurring use of the word Selah is in the Psalms. It has been defined as a pause at the end of a verse or at the complete end of the Psalm. Habakkuk also uses Selah in like manner.

I am a musician and although I have never read a “Selah” in any music I would like to think that the Psalmist’s use of the word is much like what we might see as a fermata (the bird’s eye) that would be written above the bar of a measure. This would mean that you pause between measures, much like a Selah would pause between verses or chapters. The fermata is a little different than a rest in music as it has no specified length, again very similar to the Selah. Sometimes the fermata is used to bring notice to a particular note in the music. In this case the fermata is written above that particular note and the music director will signify the fermata as he holds his hands up, completely stopping the tempo. The singer or instrumentalist sustains (or holds) the note until the leader continues.

When we see a Selah in a portion of Scripture we should pause and think about what we have just read. In my head when I read “Selah” I say “think on this”. In the Scriptures Selah is used as a literary technique to cause the reader to meditate on God’s word.

Think on This in the Bible

Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah. (Psalm 3:8)

O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. (Psalm 4:2)

Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah. (Psalm 9:20)

Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah. (Psalm 24:10)

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah (Psalm 49:15)

Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah. (Habakkuk 3:13)

Final Thoughts

When you dig a little deeper, use some tools and let the Bible prove the Bible even a term as curious as Selah becomes clear. It is good to spend time in God’s word to learn about what He wants us to know. I pray that you are daily in the word because as His disciples we must know what His word says and the only way to do that is to continue in His word (John 8:31-32). Selah!

More reading: How Do I Meditate on The Word of God?

Resources – The Holy Bible, King James Version, [1] Strong, James. Online Exhastive Strong’s Concordance. Strong’s Hebrew/Chaldee & Greek dictionaries. http://lexiconcordance.com. [2] Josephus (Ant., IV, vii, 1). Photo by Sandra Jenkins, A View from Sandia crest, Albuquerque, NM

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey May 1, 2014 at 6:36 am

I came across this because somebody giving a retirement speech in my office today said that the word “selah” in Psalms meant “rock.” I was trying to figure out where he got that from, because it’s not what I learned. It turns out there are two different words.

Strong’s 5541 is סלה, which appears 71 times in Psalms, 3 times in Habakkuk and nowhere else in the Bible. It is usually not translated.

Strong’s 5553 and 5554 are סלע, which appears in a number of places, and means “rock.” (5554 is a separate entry for a place name; 5553 is a regular noun)

ה is usually silent at the end of words and ע is understood by most English speakers to be a silent consonant, so they tend to sound the same (seh-lah) and look the same in our alphabet. But actually ע is supposed to be a guttural sound. You can see this in the city name Gomorrah (as in Sodom and), where ע is the first letter.

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Rebecca Worley November 14, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Just looking up the meaning of Selah for my daughter.

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paul denton May 5, 2015 at 5:30 am

Hi pamela, thanxxx for the article and your interpretation … many people dont think of this word… and as a psalmist and writer myself – I believe the writer wants to make a statement like amen – which means so be it… but I believe selah – a feminine word is more ” so shall it be”…or Ive always believed this word at the end of the psalms means ” so shall it be” – but it is a word that has many meanings and even the greatest scholars still havnt solved this mystery… I see it as the psalmist saying… ” YES… It certainly is… forever… – so shall it be…amen… lift Gods Name High for it truly is…but that’s the interpretation the Holy Spirit has given me and I’m sure a lot of scholars will disagree.. I see it as an affirmation by the writer saying that this is certain… an emphasis of the previous statements made. Selah!

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paul denton May 5, 2015 at 5:35 am

also i visited new mexico in 1985. i came across some native american indians praying for rain. i joined them and we prayed for it to rain. it hadnt rained for 2 and a half years. after 30 mintues of singing and praising God…it rained… i was only 22 at the time… since then i became a christian and i am planning to visit the same place and those same indians who left me with the verse…dont forget to entertain strangers… i read it years later and relaised they were all christian indians… im involved now in reaching the lost for jesus – particularly the rainbow people and the indigenous. ive travelled to over 100 countries and im still travelling…i believe i will visit america in 2016/2017. Bless u. paul

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Pamela Rose Williams May 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Thank you for your thoughts and for sharing your experience as a young man in New Mexico. It is beautiful here and we know many native Christians. I hope you stop by WCWTK again and continue reading what we are sharing here to equip, encourage, and energize Christians.

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Stephanie Sands May 16, 2016 at 8:37 am

My daughter’s name is Selah…. The Lord put it on my heart that it means “Promise”…..He put the promise on my heart that I would be blessed with a daughter, and that her name should be Selah….. And so it was…. SELAH.

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Pamela Rose Williams May 16, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Hi Staphanie, Well that is the first time that I have ever seen “Selah” to mean promise. Sweet name for a baby girl. I did a little more searching and have found some other female names that mean promise. Here they are with the country of origin: Amaris (Israel), Amaryah (Israel), Giselle (France), Jazzell (America) and Lilybet (England/Welsh). Just thought I would share. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment here.

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Ayumba June 28, 2016 at 7:20 am

I am delighted to have come across this article -last i thought of the meaning to the word was the year 2005 in may but never got an answer,today reading through the bible have come a cross it and decided to look for the meaning and so to say i am happy i have a revelation-The psalm book is poetic and music is poetic in its composure -the writer uses the word to let the reader sustain that verse and meditate on its meaning.God bless.

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