2000-06-26 - Selah

Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his Saints.

On Tuesday of this week I was reading a sermon by Obadiah Sedwick that was published in 1644. I don’t believe it has ever been republished, so it will be hard to look up. In it he commented on the phrase in the Psalms that frequently occurs, “Selah.” I don’t recall, in all my years of Seminary and study that I have ever really heard an explanation about what that phrase meant. His explanation was of special significance to me last week.

He said that the term, Selah, is considered three ways by those who seek to understand the term.

  1. Some think it is a hint that signifies direction to the musician (remember the Psalms were to be sung).
  2. Some think that it is a signal to the congregation to elevate their voices.
  3. Others think it is a pause, or a signal to stop the music, and for the congregation to stop and consider, ponder, or think about what has just been said in the Psalm.

This week was a time to stop and ponder for me. For several years I was a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The Sr. Pastor there was Dr. James Montgomery Boice who is known around the world as a teacher, writer (over 60 books), and preacher. He is maybe best known as the man on the Bible Study Hour, which is broadcast on 238 radio stations in the United States. He died on June 15, 2000 after a short illness.

Having been a member in his church for many years and known of his ministry for the last 15 years, I was back visiting the church, at the end of April, with several theology students from my classes at a local university. Little did I know it was the last service he was to preside over. He had been diagnosed with aggressive liver cancer only two days before. There are several ways of thinking about this.

It is common to think of the death of a servant of God as a blessing to the person. To be sure Dr. Boice knows a lot more about love to Christ than he ever did while living. To be sure, Dr. Boice is in the arms of Christ, knowing full well the blessings of eternity and forgiveness. All things have become known to him (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). These are common statements when a Christian dies. But what about the living?

Dr. R.C. Sproul spoke at the funeral and ended by holding back tears and saying that he had lost his best friend. Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General of the United States, spoke of Dr. Boice’s preparation for ministry even from childhood. The Rev. Eric Alexander, retired minister from St. George’s Tron Church in Scotland and a man I consider to be the foremost preacher alive, said that to deliver the sermon at Dr. Boice’s funeral (at Dr. Boice’s request) was, “The greatest honor of his life.” There are many others who knew the voice, remember the illustrations, and recall the zeal for truth that Dr. Boice had. What about the Church of Jesus Christ that lives on?

I said above that it is common to view the death of a Christian a certain way. There is another way to also view the sudden death, seemingly untimely death of a tried, and found true servant of the Lord. When the Lord removes one of His servants suddenly, especially a leader in His church, it is time for a Selah. It is time for reflection. In fact, such a removal has often been viewed as a judgment upon the church. I am not calling it that, but rather I would suggest that the sudden removal to glory of Dr. Boice, a voice of reason in an unreasonable world, is cause for reflection for the church militant who must go on serving Christ. It is time to stop singing and ponder. It is time for Selah.

Soli Deo Gloria,