“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
My mother usually had a good answer for most questions. I remember asking her what the word “Selah” meant in the Bible. She explained that Selah meant to stop and think about what you just read because it’s very important. I have since learned that my mother’s answer cannot be improved upon.
The word Selah is used 71 times in the Bible, 68 times in the Psalms, three times in Habakkuk; it is sometimes found mid-sentence in those texts. Selah comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to hang”, as in hanging something to be weighed. In Old Testament times money, food, and various commodities were “hung” on scales to determine value. Thus, the word Selah called for reading or singing of a text to stop and then carefully weigh or consider what has just been read or sung. The popular preacher and Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee compared Selah to a railroad crossing sign stating, “stop, look, and listen.” (Commentary on the Psalms) I think of the apostle Paul writing in his second letter to Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.” As we read scripture, or any other texts for that matter, it is important for us to frequently stop and weigh or think about our reading.
For me the age of the Internet makes taking time for Selah moments even more necessary. I identify with Nicholas Carr in his book, Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brains, in which he observes: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Many media experts now talk about how use of the Internet hinders the ability to think deeply. This makes Selah moments all the more essential for those who want to listen to God!
Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges was a theologian and author of 34 books: he warned his students to be careful about the need for reading linked to reflection:
The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality is in reality a defect; it differs in no wise from other passions that monopolize the soul, keep it in a state of disturbance, set it in uncertain currents and cross-currents, and exhaust its powers….The mind is dulled, not fed by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…Never read when you can reflect. (The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods)
Thomas Brooks, in the seventeenth century, gave helpful instruction on reading in his classic book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices:
Remember, it is not hasty reading — but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching the flower, which gathers honey — but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most — but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christians.
I commend the ancient spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina, or Holy Reading, as a way of stopping, looking and listening for God in His Word. The four steps of Lectio Divina are:
- READ the text slowly and prayerfully three or four times.
- REFLECT on words and images in the text that stand out to you.
- RESPOND by talking with God about what you have read and reflected on.
- REST in God’s presence for a few moments.
Why not take the scripture text (Psalm 46:10-11) at the top of the page and take some time with it using the four steps of Lectio Divina? Stop, look and listen!
Grace and peace,