The Fountainhead

“And the singers, like the dancers — all my fountainheads are in you!”

(Psalm 87:7)

There are a great many different views on these final words of this psalm. Many of our English translations present the last phrase as what it is that the singers and dancers are singing. While that could very much be so, that would be an inference that is being made for they must insert the word, “say,” into the text when it it not absolutely needed, as these words may simply be the Psalmist’s final words — perhaps it is his personal “selah” at the end of the psalm.

Some commentators suggest that “singers” belongs to the previous verse, but that would be odd given the presence of the selah at the end of that section. Many of our English Bibles create a kind of play on words with their English translation that is not present in the Hebrew, as they translate the final words as “all my springs are in you.” Given that dancers twirl and spring, this rendering implies a form of jumping dance not unlike what we see in David as he leads the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:16). Yet, in Hebrew, the word here has to do with headwaters of a well or of a spring, so while in English a play on words might seem to be at work, that kind of play on words was clearly not intended by the author.

So, what is in view? The singers and dancers, in context, seem to be a reference to the worshippers coming in to Zion, lifting their praises to God because they have been included in the great and eternal city of Jerusalem above. Such is implied with the repetition of those who were “born there” — reflecting a sense of belonging. This is strengthened by the ancient Greek translation of this passage, found in the LXX, which translates the Hebrew NÎyVoAm (ma’yan — “spring” or “fountainhead”) as katoiki/a (katoikia), meaning “dwelling place.” Thus, when the ancient Jews were seeking to communicate the sense of this verse to the Greeks, they emphasized the notion of dwelling in the city of Zion.

Yet, we would be remiss if we did not speak of the significance of the notion of fountainheads of water in the Christian life. Jesus presents himself as the source of living water (John 4:10) and later he says that if we believe in Jesus, out of us will flow living water as well (John 7:38), presenting a picture of the water flowing out of Jesus and into the life of believers and then out from us. In each case, it is Jesus who is the true fountainhead of living water. Indeed, even in Revelation, we see John borrowing from the imagery of Psalm 23 and presenting Christ, the Lamb of God, who shepherds his people and leads us to springs of living water (Revelation 7:17). Given the Messianic nature of this psalm, that it is Jesus and Jesus alone, who leads us into the Jerusalem above — true Zion — we should indeed see these words as that of the psalmist speaking for all true believers — “my fountainhead (of living water) is in you, oh Jesus!”

“You will say, in that day, ‘I will praise you, Yahweh, for you were angry with me, but your anger turned away and you repeatedly comforted me.’ Behold! God is my salvation, whom I trust. I will not fear. For my refuge and my strength are in the Lord Yahweh; He is my salvation. You draw water with joy from the fountainheads of the salvation. You will say, in that day, ‘Praise Yahweh! Call on his name! Make his deeds known to all the people — proclaim that his name is exalted! Praise Yahweh, for he has done illustriously — make this known in all the earth. Rejoice and cry out loud, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.’”

(Isaiah 12)

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