What does Higgaion and Selah mean?

Question
What does Higgaion and Selah mean?
Answer
Both Higgaion and Selah are used numerous times in the Old Testament. They occur together in Psalm 9:16.

The meanings of these words are uncertain. We observe Higgaion in such passages as Psalm 9:16; 19:14; 42:3; Lamentations 3:63. In Arabic, the root gives a deep vibrating sound, like the murmering sound of a harp (Psa. 92:3). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that it may be derived from the Greek versions of Psalm 9:16 and takes it to mean an instrumental interlude. It may also mean a soliloquy or meditation such as concerning the judgment of God (Psa. 9:16), the words and work of God (Psa. 19:14), and the loving kindness and faithfulness of God (Psa. 92:2-3).

In the Septuagint, Selah is translated as daplasma (meaning a division). It occurs in Habakkuk 3:3, 9, 13 and 71 times in the Psalms. It is used in 39 of our 150 psalms. Of those 39 psalms, 31 they are ones handed over to "the chief Musician." So, pause and meditation may be the predominate idea. In addition, it may mean to lift up (Hebrew, salal) or, in some definitions, a repetition, end of a strophe, or a recurring symphony.

In his sermon named "HIGGAION!" about Psalm 9:16, Archibald G. Brown, on August 17, 1873, at the East London Tabernacle said this:

When the psalmist wrote this verse, and reached the words 'The wicked shall be snared in the work of his own hands', he seemed to be overpowered at the terror of the thought, and so put a full stop and wrote in the word 'Higgaion!' As much as to say, 'O my soul, meditate on the tremendous truth my hand has penned, and let all who read the same meditate.' And then after 'Higgaion' he puts 'Selah'. He would have there to be a solemn pause. Oh, I would that there could be just one moment's solemn pause in our meeting tonight. Would that there could be a Selah, a Higgaion! Friends, shall there be? I put it to you. 'The Lord is known by the judgment which he executes; and the wicked shall be snared in the work of his own hands!'

Now let us just for a moment meditate on that. Let there be a solemn Higgaion, and let every heart ask itself the question, 'How do I stand in reference to this tremendous truth?'

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).