Friday, February 6, 2015

Selah, Leadership, and Fallow Ground

Selah… Some people have considered this the most difficult word in the Old Testament to translate, understand, and define. In that sentiment, it shares much with leadership, a term that would be "experts" and professionals have defined and redefined so often that it also lacks any standard definition. Some believe selah means something like "pause and reflect" or "stop and listen." However, it could just as easily represent an instruction to the choir director much like a fermata or the "cut" symbol ('' ). We can also see it in the next to last blessing of the Amidah, one of the most important Jewish prayers (Telushkin, 1991), where selah means "forever." Thirty-one of the thirty-nine Psalms directed "to the choir director" contain the word selah. It appears 71 times in 39 different Psalms and 3 times in Habakkuk. It's most often located at the end of verses. Its root word means "to hang," as in a weighing scale and thus the relation between "weighing God's Word" and stopping or pausing to contemplate or reflect on it.

Blanchard (1996) and others have suggested that leadership consists of doing the right things and that management consists of doing things right. It is seldom easy to do the right things. It is seldom easy to know the best right things to do. However, Scriptures provide some suggestions: "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him" (James 1:5, RSV); "… for which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it" (Luke 14:28); a man’s steps are ordered by the LORD; how then can man understand his way? It is a snare for a man to say rashly, 'it is holy,' and to reflect only after making his vows" (Proverbs 20:24&25); and "set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). These, among others, encourage us to pray, contemplate, meditate, and consider what He wants us to do. From a believer's perspective, the true leaders are those who listen for His still, small voice. It is difficult to hear that voice with the noise of constant activity.

Fallow ground… represents that work hardened dirt path on the hearts of individuals, complete with deep furrows from other people marching on and through it. Jeremiah and Hosea suggested that Israel repent and thereby, till up the hardened, non-productive ground that was representative of their nation's relationship with God. They suggested that fallow ground could once again grow crops... signifying the re-establishment of a growing relationship with and in Him. For believers, this is similar to allowing the Holy Spirit to take His place on the thrones of their lives. People cannot do it in their own strength. Their tillers will barely cut through already cultivated soil. In fact, the metaphor probably provides more accuracy with people represented as the tilling tool and God represented as the gardener. He knows the soil that requires the tiller. He knows the depth the blade must achieve to adequately work the soil. He provides the compass direction to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency: knowing whether to cut across the lay of the land or to run with it.

People could say this applies to all believers and not just leaders. I would say that it makes all believers leaders. Manz (1986) and Neck, Neck, Manz, and Godwin (1999) discussed the implications of self-leadership and that no requirements exist for leaders to necessarily have followers for them to use leadership or to otherwise lead. Revelation 1:5b-6 says, "to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Believers are priests with an inheritance. Christ bought us with a price. Based on these, leadership is not the reward… It is the obligation.


Blanchard, K. (1996). Turning the organizational pyramid upside down. In F. Hesselbein, M. Goldsmith, & R. Beckhard (Eds.), The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the New Era. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manz, C. C. (1986). Self-leadership: Toward an expanded theory of self-influence processes in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 11(3), 585-600.

Neck, C. P., Neck, H. M., Manz, C. C., Godwin, J. (1999). "I think I can; I think I can" A self-leadership perspective toward enhancing entrepreneur thought patterns, self-efficacy, and performance. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 14(6) 477-499.

Telushkin, J. (1991). Jewish literacy: The most important things to know about the Jewish religion, its people, and its history. New York: William Morrow.


Copyright © 2015, by G. R. Bud West. All rights reserved.

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