I was reading Psalm 3 and the word selah came up a few times. In the footnote it said, "A word of uncertain meaning, occurring frequently in the Psalms; possibly a musical term." The dictionary says, "a term of uncertain meaning found in the Hebrew text of the Psalms and Habakkuk carried over untranslated into some English versions." What is your opinion on what this word means? --Leonard Patat, Athens, Georgia
The word selah occurs 71x in Pss (Psalms), by my account, and 3x in Hab 3 (vv. 3, 9, 13). Even though nobody knows for sure, it has nevertheless been translated in a number of ways:
* Louder strain
* Break or musical interlude (in the LXX, Septuagint Greek, where the word is diapsalma).
The word appears to have from the verb selah (lift up, exalt), or from salal (cast up, lift up, exalt). But even of that I am not too sure. One thing the investigation highlights is how few O.T. words are actually unclear (like selah), and how many -- nearly all -- are well understood. Not bad, considering the O.T. was written between three and two and a half thousand years ago!
Our best guess is that selah is some sort of musical direction, and most Bible versions seem to follow the LXX understanding. Considering the LXX was translated in the 3rd century BC, it has an inherently greater likelihood of being nearer the meaning, as (1) it was translated by Jews, and (2) the Psalms were completed just a couple of centuries earlier. If this is the case, then to read it aloud when one is reciting the Pss would be a mistake. It would be as though an opera singer, amidst the lines he or she was to sing, articulated every adagio, andante, and da capo al coda written into the score!