What do the Words ‘Selah’ and ‘Higgaion’ Mean?

Mysterious Words in Scripture

‘Selah’ occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms, as well as in Habakkuk 3:3, 9 and 13. 

There are six distinct opinions as to its meaning:

  1. a pause
  2. a repetition, like da capo
  3. the end of a strophe
  4. a playing with full power (fortissimo)
  5. a bending of the body, an obeisance;
  6. a short, recurring symphony (ritornello). It probably means an orchestral interlude or change from piano to forte.

With reference to the meaning of the word ‘Higgaion,’ the Davis Dictionary of the Bible provides the following definition: A musical term occurring in Psalm 9:16. The word is used elsewhere in the sense of solemn sound, meditation see Psalm 19:14; 42:3; Lamentations 3:63. In Psalm 9:16 the word is combined with Selah, which means a pause of unusual duration and solemnity.

The use of ‘Selah’ and ‘Higgaion’ in scripture:

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah – Habakkuk 3:3

You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah – Habakkuk 3:9

You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah – Habakkuk 3:13

The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah. – Psalm 9:16

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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