Key Words: What does “Selah” mean?

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In this series on Key Words – the words we use in worship, in sacred actions and responses – we have seen that Amen is a one word covenant affirmation, “let it be so.” Jesus is God’s Amen (2Co. 1:20). Also, Hallelujah is a call to the congregation to overflow with praise to the Covenant Lord because of the victory of the Lamb of God (Rev. 19:1, 3, 4, 6). Last week we considered the word “Holy” which connotes separation and brightness. When we say “Holy, Holy, Holy” in The Sanctus in the Lord’s Supper we participate in the heavenly liturgy (Rev. 4:8) since we have access to the Most Holy Place through Christ (Heb. 10:19ff).

Concluding our series on Key Words, this week we will consider a word that is found about 74 times in the OT, “Selah.” It is used 71 times in the Psalms. This is a word that is transliterated like “Amen” – meaning that it sounds the same in Hebrew as well as English. It is found in passages like Psalm 3: “Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no deliverance for him in God.’ Selah.” (3:2) “I was crying to the LORD with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah” (3:4). Or Psalm 89:4 – “Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.”

Though this word is found many times in the pages of our Bibles, the precise meaning is unclear. It is generally agreed that Selah must be a musical or liturgical sign, basically signaling for some kind of action such as 1) to lift up the voice or the hands in prayer, or 2) implying “forever” so that it is a cry of worship like Amen or Hallelujah (Ps. 46:3) punctuating the liturgy (Ps. 3:2, 4, etc.), or 3) just a musical crescendo – “louder” or “forte.” However, there is good reason to think it signals “the lifting up of instrumental music in an interlude or postlude.” This seems clear in passages such as Psalm 87: “The Lord shall count when He registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.’ Selah. Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, ‘All my springs of joy are in you’” (Ps. 87:6-7). Like 2 Chr. 5 at the dedication of the temple, the Talmud (a record of Judaism’s oral teachings) says, “…when they reached a break in the singing they blew upon the trumpet.”

Selah indicates such musical “breaks” or punctuations in the verbal praise. It is an opportunity to reflect on the truths just uttered when the musical interlude begins. It is no accident that all Christian worship with the use of instruments follows this pattern. The instruments introduce and signal our singing. Musical “selahs” provide for a break within worship for both cuing new verses and new events in the liturgy. God’s liturgy of the Psalms provides a basis for this pattern. Several implications flow from this: 1) The value of instrumental music in worship; 2) the necessity of sequences of events in worship; 3) the recognition of different roles for groups, leaders, and congregation in worship.


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Key Words: What Does “Holy Holy Holy” mean?

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In this series on Key Words – the words we use in worship, in sacred actions and responses – we saw that Amen is a one word affirmation, “let it be so.” But the earliest use is a covenant word. Therefore, Jesus is God’s Amen (2Co. 1:20). Also, Hallelujah is a call to the congregation to praise the Covenant Lord and in the NT signals that the Lamb of God has conquered (Rev. 19:1, 3, 4, 6).

This week, we will consider the word “Holy” and especially its threefold usage, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The Hebrew root for “holy” (qadosh) appears as a noun, verb and adjective over 850 times and has two associations, separation and brightness. It is God’s Godness as well as His purity from evil. Our English word “holy” first is used in Wycliffe’s Bible (1382). This word is at the heart of God’s self-revelation and his call of Israel (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 19:2). So, in the highest sense, holiness belongs to God alone (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4). Yet, believers are consecrated to be like God in this (Eph. 1:4; 2Cor. 7:1, Titus 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:15).

In Isaiah 6:2 and Revelation 4:8 the threefold, “Holy, holy, holy” is found as the continual cry of angelic beings in heaven. Isaiah 6:1ff says, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne . . . Seraphim stood above Him . . . one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’” Similarly in Revelation 4:8 “the four living creatures . . . day and night they do not cease to say, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.’” In our liturgy, from the earliest records of the Christian Church, this is in the preface to the Eucharist, called “The Sanctus.” This has been called “the most ancient, the most celebrated, and the most universal of Christian hymns.” The Sanctus reminds us that we join with the sinless angels and glorified men (Heb. 12:22) as we participate in the heavenly liturgy, joining heaven and earth (Rev. 4:8). The Sanctus is a verbal sign of one of our greatest privileges: access to the Most Holy Place through Christ (Heb. 10:19ff).


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Key Words: What does “Hallelujah” mean?

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Revelation 19:1–6 – After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 19:2 BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” 19:3 And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” 19:4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 19:5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” 19:6 Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.

Last week we began this series on Key Words – the words we use in worship, in sacred actions and responses. We say words like “Amen,” and “Hallelujah” and “Glory” and “Holy” throughout worship and in our reading of Scripture. Last week we saw that Amen was originally a Hebrew word which meant “to be firm,” but has come to be a one word affirmation, “let it be so.” But the earliest uses of the word are to confirm the words of a covenant (Num. 5:22, Deut 27:15). In the fulness of time the final affirmation of God’s covenant promises were in the person of Jesus (2Co. 1:20). God’s “Amen” cost Him the life of His Son.

The word for this week is “Hallelujah.” “Hallel” in Hebrew means “joyous praise,” “to boast in God,” or “to act madly or foolishly.” The “Jah” or “Yah” part of the word is the first two letters of the covenant name of God, “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” (YHWH). Therefore, “Hallelujah” is a command for the congregation to give “joyous praise” to the Covenant Lord. It is used 24 times in the Hebrew OT, most often translated “Praise the Lord!” and is transliterated as “alleluia” four times in the NT. It’s important in the Psalms and there is a group of Psalms that are marked by the word, “Hallelujah.” They are in three groups: 104-106; 111-113; 146-150. The most intense use of the word comes in the last sequence of Psalms (146-150). It is interesting that “Hallelujah” is found in only one passage in the NT. It is the climactic portion of the book of Revelation 19 (19:1, 3, 4, 6) which signals, after many cataclysmic events (seals broken and bowls of wrath poured out, beasts and monsters…) that the Lamb of God has conquered. When we say it, we should say it with the confidence of all of heaven. “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!” (Rev. 19:6).

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Key Words: What does “Amen” mean?

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2 Corinthians 1:20 – For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

We have finished within the last year an Old Testament expositional series through the Minor Prophets (the Book of the Twelve), as well as a New Testament book, 1 John. Now we will look at a few broader biblical concepts. This series is on Key Words – the words we use in worship, in sacred actions and responses. We say words like “Amen,” and “Hallelujah” and “Glory” and “Holy” throughout worship and in our reading of Scripture. But do you know know what they mean? Is it just a sound of consonants and vowels put together with no comprehension? I am afraid often it is just a sound without meaning and intention. But by the end of this series we will know why we say what we say and we will say it with heart and soul and voice. So Amen, praise the Lord, and Glory Hallelujah!

The first Key Word that we will consider is, “Amen.” We say it continually, but what does it mean? What should it mean when we say it? How should we say it? Amen was originally Hebrew word which meant “to be firm,” or “to prop.”  So this root meaning is extended from something being “firm” or “hard” to the more abstract idea of “truth,” or “faithfulness.” Scripture says God is the God of Amen, the God of truth (Isa. 65:16 ). It is a one word affirmation, “let it be so.” That’s why it is at the end of prayers (Ps. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52). But the earliest uses of the word are to confirm the words of a covenant and invoke the fulfillment of the terms of the covenant (Num. 5:22, Deut 27:15). For example, there is a catechism of curses for infidelity to the Lord in Deuteronomy 27. “‘Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen” (Deut. 27:15). Amen is therefore a word which confirms a covenant or oath.

The final affirmation of God’s covenant promise to be the God of Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12, 15, 17) comes in the person of Jesus (Gal. 3:14-16). As our text says in the NJB version, “For in him is found the Yes to all God’s promises and therefore it is ‘through him’ that we answer ‘Amen’ to give praise to God.” Jesus is the Amen of the God of Amen that He has fulfilled His Covenant! Therefore when we “answer” “Amen” it should be with the full knowledge that God’s “Amen” cost Him the life of His Son. Amen!

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1 John (12): Lessons and Summary

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The Parallel Outline of First John
A 1:1–4 — Prologue — Eternal Life Manifested
B 1:5–2:2 —The Truth Proclaimed
C  2:3–17 — The Love Commandment
D 2:18–27 — Antichrists Deny Jesus is the Christ
E 2:28–3:10 — Confidence as Children of God
F 3:11–18 — The Message: Sacrificial Love for One Another
E’ 3:19–24 — Confidence in God’s Presence
D’ 4:1–6 — Antichrists Deny Christ Came in the Flesh
C’ 4:7–5:5 — The Love Example
B’ 5:6–12 — The Testimony Received
A’ 5:13–21 — Conclusion — Eternal Life Assured

First John urges us to cling to Jesus Christ. This faith produces the fruit of seeing our sin for what it is (1:8-9), trusting in the forgiveness available through Christ’s work (2:1), and being faithful to love the brethren (3:16).

We must deal with sin as sin. As 1 John 1:8-9, teaches, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Epistle began (1:1-4) with a testimony to the Incarnation which is the way we have Life, rather than death because of sin. John proclaims this way of life in fellowship (koinonia) with the Father and Son. The recurring theme of assurance in this life forms the intro and conclusion of the book. He says of the entire Epistle, “I have written to you” in order that “you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).

We must cling to Christ in faith. As 1 John 2:1–2 teaches, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.” A repeated theme of this Epistle is that we believe in Christ in His Person and work (the propitiation for our sins). The spirit of antichrist is the source of the denial of Jesus and His redemptive work. Therefore, we must be vigilant against Christ-denying errors. A survey of 1 John provides a comprehensive list of these errors.

1) We must be Vigilant Against Errors of Idolatry – “Guard yourselves from idols” (5:21). “This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (2:22). Those who proceed in terms of false worship therefore disobey the First and Second Commandment (No other gods, No graven images). All paganism and polytheism and ultimately all Trinitarian heresies fall under this category (like the “oneness” Pentecostals, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc). Ultimately all error becomes idolatry.

2) We must be Vigilant Against Errors of Biblical Authority – “He who is not from God does not listen to us” (4:6). John explains that “we” (apostles) heard, saw and handled the incarnate Christ (1:1-2). Many heresies begin with an aberration on the Scripture. (Islam, Romanism, Mormonism, Bahaism – all have additional revelation which nullifies the Word of God.

3) We must be Vigilant Against Errors of Christ’s Person and Work – “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (4:2-3). John also references those who deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22). He explains that Jesus’s death is the propitiation of our sins (2:1, 4:10). Therefore, there is category of heresy relating to the Person and Work of Jesus, such as the early gnostic heresy (denying Jesus was a man), Arianism (denying the full divinity of Jesus), Pelagianism and Socinianism (denying the sufficiency of the Work of Christ), and the various ways of denying the orthodox view that Jesus is the divine Son of God in two distinct natures (human and divine) and one person forever.

4) We must be Vigilant Against Errors of Creation – Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and therefore much heresy stems from an anti-creational error often influenced by alien philosophies such as Greek notions that matter is evil. This philosophy does not recognize the inherent goodness of God’s good creation (Gen. 1). Paul (like John) calls this kind of error a doctrine of demons when “men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe …

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1 John (11): Eternal Life Assured (5:13-21)

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He Has Written to Assure Us of Eternal Life (5:13-15) – “These things I have written to you . . . so that you may know that you have eternal life.” The Epistle began (1:1-4) with a testimony to the Incarnation. John proclaims that we may have fellowship (koinonia) with the Father and Son. Koinonia is really just “life” in and with other Persons. The recurring theme of assurance is summarized here. He says of the entire Epistle, “I have written to you” in order that “you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13). This assurance is directly connected to our confidence in our petitions before the Lord (5:14). Similar to a previous passage (3:22) “whatever we ask we receive from Him” because it is “according to His will.” Confidence in prayer is an outcome of knowing we have life in Him.

He Has Written to Apply to Us Eternal Life (5:16-19) –  “There is a sin leading to death . . . no one who is born of God sins.” The discussion of prayer leads to the efficacy of our prayers for those committing sin. John marks out a category of sin, “a sin leading to death” (hamartia pros thanaton). There are three views of what this could be: a) a specific deadly sin (Num. 15:27, “high-handed” sin); b) blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:32); or c) a rejection of the gospel or complete apostasy (Heb. 6:4–6; 10:26–27). It seems likely given the other emphases in the Epistle that John has in mind apostasy from the gospel. In contrast those who are Fathered by God do not “sin and keep on sinning” (hamartanei, present tense). We believe and keep on believing. Thus, the sin in context is not any sin, but apostasy-sin which ultimately rejects Jesus as the Christ, the divine Son of God and His Church.

He Has Written that We Apprehend Eternal Life (5:20-21) – “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding . . .  guard yourselves from idols.” The final section reminds us that while the power of the evil one has the power to bring deceivers and antichrists, Christ has given us “understanding so that we may know Him who is true” (5:20). If we apprehend the truth then we cannot utterly apostatize because He “keeps us” (5:18) and has given “understanding” from God. A believer has been “fathered by God” and has “an anointing” from the Spirit to cause him to persevere in embracing Jesus. The last imperative is an utter contrast to faith in Jesus: “guard yourselves from idols” (5:21). Many puzzle about the ending, but it is parallel to “What was from the beginning” (1:1) in the (chiastic) outline. Whereas Jesus of Nazareth is The “Word” who “was in nature God” (John 1:1) and is the Son of God, the Christ who has come in the flesh, if any one exalts a false philosophy (gnosticism) or an erroneous fictitious view of the “Christ spirit,” that is simply idolatry.

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1 John (10): The Testimony Received (5:6-12)

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The Testimony of the Water and the Blood (5:6a) – “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.” As we revisit “The Truth” section of the outline, at first glance John gives strange words. What does it mean that Jesus came by “water and blood”? There are three main views: 1) Luther and Calvin thought it referred to sacraments, baptism (water) and communion (blood). 2) Augustine saw the “water and blood” as the crucifixion when from his side came “blood and water” (John 19:34–35). 3) Tertullian probably has it right, though he is usually to be less trusted that Luther, Calvin or Augustine. He and most commentators see the “water and blood” as punctuating Jesus’ earthly ministry which began with His baptism (water) and ended with His crucifixion (blood). This view makes more sense of the false teaching context where Jesus humanity (thus real death) was being denied. It was “not with the water only” (5:6) – not that Jesus was anointed Messiah in his baptism only. Rather Jesus was Messiah in his blood-death (propitiation) as well.

The Testimony of the Spirit (56b-9) – “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 5:7 For there are three that testify: 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. . . ”  The doctrine of the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” is supported throughout the epistle. The Spirit “testifies” with the “water and blood” and this is the testimony of God. These “three” testify of the same truth that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Son of God. The Spirit always testifies according to the Word because He is “the truth” (6b). Note: The King James has additional words in v7, not found in the earliest and best Greek texts, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (5:7). While this would be a great proof text for the Trinity, it is not necessary to John’s Trinitarian theology (which we saw in the last passage) and probably was not part of the original.

The Testimony within the Believer (5:10-12) – “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself . . . 5:12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” The concluding verses in the section make clear the same message that has been repeated throughout the epistle yet with an added component of assurance. Despite the claims of false teachers who claim to abide in the Father, have “life,” the “spirit” and the “anointing,” a believer in Jesus has “the testimony in himself” (5:10). The function of the Spirit bearing witness within a Christian is to assure the believer that he has the Son. Those who have the Son have eternal life and those who do not have Jesus do not have eternal life (5:12).

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