Understanding Difficult Words

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Still some words not being understood challenges a reader. For example, Selah which appears in the Book of Psalms over 70 times. Its meaning is still a mystery to many, even scholars. Amen, Hallelujah, and Selah are not English words, they are Hebrew. Their special sanctity has preserved them. A better understanding of Selah comes from knowing the Psalms were originally sung by the Levitical choir in the Temple. Some contain musical direction. Selah most often comes at the end of several verses. Many scholars think the word comes from the root “SLL” meaning rise up instructing vocalists to lift their voices. Others think it comes from the root “sal” referring to a drum beating at intervals. Whatever it is understood to mean is conjecture. At best, not knowing the meaning does not rob a reader of the meaning of the passage.

A little known word appearing several times in the New Testament with reference to Jesus is “propitiation.” “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (John 4: 10)

Basically the word refers to Jesus becoming our substitute,  assuming our obligations, and covering our guilt. In summary it referred to a peace offering between two estranged parties. 

A crude example comes from an old Tarzan movie in which two warring tribes would come together and sacrifice a chicken as a peace offering settling their dispute. That is what the death of Jesus makes possible regarding the estrangement between God and human beings. Jesus is God’s peace offering. 

Often help is needed to understand some small familiar English words like hate as in Luke 14: 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” The Greek word “miseo” is translated “hate.” It is only in a comparative sense, and not literally, that the term can possibly be used. In comparison to our love for Jesus our proper genuine love for our parents is like hate. It is not an instruction to literally hate others and ourselves. It means our strong love for Jesus exceeds our strong meaningful love for our family and ourselves.

Napoleon understood this principle when he said, “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander [the Great], Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and this hour millions of men would die for him.”

Because of His propitiation for our sins, we should love Him, Selah.