Psalm 78:12-16

12. He wrought marvellously [or he did wondrous things] in the sight of their fathers; in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.1 13. He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through, and made the waters to stand as an heap. 14. And he led them by a cloud in the day; and all the night by the light of fire. 15. He clave the rocks in the wilderness: and made them to drink in great deeps. 16. And he brought forth streams from the rock, and made the waters to run down like rivers.


12. He wrought marvellously in the sight of their fathers. The Psalmist is still to be regarded as condemning the posterity of the Israelites for their guilt; but he very properly, at the same time, begins to speak of the first ancestors of the nation, intimating, that the whole race of them, even from their first original, were of a perverse and rebellious disposition. But having remarked that the children of Ephraim had fallen into apostasy, because they had forgotten the wonderful works of God, he continues to prosecute the same subject. Meanwhile, as I have said, he makes a very happy transition to speak of the fathers, whom it was his object to include in the same condemnation. In the first place, he adverts to the miracles which were wrought in the midst of the land of Egypt, previous to the departure of the people from it. To recall these the more vividly to the mind, he names a place which was highly celebrated -- the field of Zoan. He next comes to speak of the passage through the sea, where he repeats what was brought under our notice in the previous psalm, that the order of nature was reversed when the waters stopped in their course, and were even raised up into solid heaps like mountains. In the third place, he declares, that after the people had passed through the Red Sea, God still continued to be their guide in their journey; and that this might not be a mere temporary deliverance, he graciously continued to stretch forth his hand to bestow upon them new testimonies of his goodness. It being a difficult and wearisome thing for them to pursue their journey through dry and sandy regions, it was no ordinary blessing to be protected from the heat of the sun by the intervention of a cloud. This, however, was to them a pledge of more distinguished grace. God hereby testified, that this people were under his protection, until they should reach the heavenly inheritance. Accordingly, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:2, that there was a kind of baptism administered to the people in that cloud, as also in their passing through the sea; the fruit of which is not limited to this frail and transitory life, but extends even to everlasting salvation.

15. He clave the rocks in the wilderness. The Psalmist produces another evidence of the fatherly love by which God testified the greatness of the care which he exercised about the welfare of this people. It is not simply said that God gave them drink, but that he did this in a miraculous manner. Streams, it is true, sometimes issue from rocks, but the rock which Moses smote was completely dry. Whence it is evident, that the water was not brought forth from any spring, but that it was made to flow from the profoundest deeps, as if it had been said, from the very center of the earth. Those, therefore, who have interpreted this passage as meaning, that the Israelites drank in the bottomless deeps, because the waters flowed in great abundance, have failed in giving the true explanation. Moses, in his history of the miracle, rather enhances its greatness, by intimating, that God commanded those waters to come gushing from the remotest veins.

The same truth is confirmed in the following verse, in which it is stated, that where there had not been a single drop of water before there was a large and mighty river. Had there only sprung out of the rock a small rivulet, ungodly men might have had some apparent ground for cavilling at, and underrating the goodness of God, but when the water gushed out in such copious abundance all on a sudden, who does not see that the ordinary course of nature was changed, rather than that some vein or spring which lay hidden in the earth was opened?

1 Zoan was the ancient capital of Egypt where the Pharaohs resided. Its great antiquity appears from the expression used respecting Hebron, in Numbers 13:22, where, to set forth the antiquity of that city, in which Abraham the tenth from Noah dwelt, it is said, that it "was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt." Zoan is twice specified in this psalm, here and in verse 43d, (though not mentioned in the history of the plagues in the book of Exodus,) as the scene of the wonderful works wrought on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt by Moses. This may mean, that these miracles were performed there in the sight of Pharaoh. Or the field or country of Zoan, may be put poetically for Egypt in general. Thus, in other poetical parts of Scripture, Zoan is sometimes used instead of Egypt, as in Isaiah 19:11, 13, where "the princes of Zoan" just mean the counsellors of Pharaoh; and in Isaiah 30:4, where, when God's ancient people are represented as sending to Egypt for relief, it is said, that their "princes were at Zoan." Zoan is rendered by the Chaldee Mynaj, by the LXX. Taniv , by the Vulgate Tanis, and by the Coptic Tane, from the Coptic ten, plain, flat, level; being situated on the low ground of the Delta, on one of the Eastern branches of the Nile, bearing its own name, near a large lake, now called the Lake of Menzala, 44 miles west of Pelusium, 169 miles east of Alexandria, and three miles from the Mediterranean. There are ruins still remaining to mark the site of Zoan or Tanis, called San by the Arabs, comprising broken obelisks, capitals of the Corinthian order, a granite monument, etc. These ruins, however, are not thought to be of the highest antiquity.