Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
סלל סלה סלא
The Hebrew of the Bible incorporates two distinct roots of the form סלל (salal), one of which produces the form סלה (sala), which is the same as the form of two other roots, one of which is closely related to a root סלא (sala'):
The verb סלא (sala') occurs only once, although it's obviously a by-form of the verb סלה (sala; insofar obviousness can be expected to surround words that occur only once). The verb סלא (sala') means to weigh, and is used only in Lamentations 4:2, where the poet speaks of the precious sons of Zion, who compare to fine gold (King James Version and other older translations). The younger New American Standard tries to stay truer to the Hebrew and reads "weighed against fine gold". The New International Version reads a daring "once worth their weight in gold".
The verb סלה (sala I) means to make light of or toss aside. It's used only twice in the Bible: in Psalm 119:118 the poet sings how YHWH tosses aside all who wander from the Law. Through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem mournfully observes how YHWH has tossed aside all her strong men (Lamentations 1:15).
The verb סלה (sala II) is clearly related to the verb סלא (sala'), and used only once as well, in the same context. As Job contemplates from where wisdom might be obtained, he observes that wisdom does not compare to the gold of Ophir (NAS, KJV, JSP, ASV, Young: cannot be valued in; NIV: cannot be bought with; Darby: is not set in the balance with).
The root verb סלל (salal I) means to cast up, lift up or exalt. It appears to be related to (or even denominative of) the Akkadian word for highway, and in the Bible it's predominantly used to describe the constructing of a highway, but this mostly in a figurative or even proverbial sense.
The prophet Isaiah compares Jerusalem to a bride and tells her to build up a highway for her Groom (Isaiah 57:14, Isaiah 62:10). Through Jeremiah the Lord laments that His people have left His highway and are now blundering about on the byways of idols (Jeremiah 18:15, also see Proverbs 15:19). In Job 19:12, Job complains to Bildad that God's troops have build up a road against him and camp around his tent. Later he describes how the young men built up against him their ways of destruction and break up his path (Job 30:12-13).
Jeremiah uses this verb without referring to a way or road, and invites an undefined army to pile up Babylon like heaps.
The verb is also used to describe the lifting up of a song to God (Psalm 68:4), the exalting effect wisdom has on those who value her (Proverbs 4:8), and the self-exalting of Pharaoh against Israel (Exodus 9:17).
The derivations of this verb are:
- The verb סלה (sela), of which only the imperative is used in the Bible (or so it is assumed). It's the musical term that's familiar from the Psalms: Selah, but note that this term may very well have come from the verbs סלה (sala) or סלא (sala'), treated above.
- The feminine noun סללה (solela) meaning mound; a wall cast up, usually with a military objective (2 Kings 19:32, Jeremiah 6:6)
- The masculine noun סלם (sullam), usually translated with ladder, but that's possibly not wholly accurate. It's used only once in the Bible, in the famous Jacob's "ladder" scene (Genesis 28:12). The word may cover any typically vertical construction, but it certainly also captures the notion of travelling as if along a highway, as the angels that Jacob saw did.
- The feminine noun מסלה (mesilla), meaning highway (Numbers 20:19, Judges 20:31, Isaiah 49:11).
- The masculine equivalent of previous: מסלול (maslul), also meaning highway (Isaiah 35:8 only).
The root סלל (salal II) isn't used in the Bible so we don't know what it might have meant or if there is any relationship with the other root סלל (salal I). Its extant derivatives are:
- The masculine noun סל (sal), meaning basket (Genesis 40:18, Judges 6:19, Exodus 29:3).
- The feminine noun סלסלה (salsilla), which only occurs once, in Jeremiah 6:9. It's not clear what this word may mean. KJV, ASV, Darby and Young read the rather curious "turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets". NIV and NAS have "pass your hand over the branches". JSP reads "turn again thy hand as a grape-gatherer upon the shoots".