The shortest route for the children of Israel to the Promised Land would have been straight across the land of the Philistines.

However, G‑d wanted to give the newly-born Jewish nation the opportunity to throw off the remnants of Egyptian influence, and to educate them in the new ways of a holy life, through the Divine Torah which was to be given to them on Mount Sinai.

Furthermore, the shortest way to the Holy Land would have involved the people in a war with the Philistines, and it was doubtful whether the children of Israel, who had just left centuries of continuous slavery behind, would be strong enough to fight like free men; they might decide to return to Egypt rather than face a bloody war.

Therefore, G‑d led the Jewish people in a round-about way. Instead of following the coast of the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Promised Land, they were led southwards through the desert.

After three days, Pharaoh received word of the progress of the children of Israel. The unexpected direction of their march made him think that they had gotten lost in the desert. Pharaoh now regretted that he had permitted them to leave. He immediately mobilized his army and personally took leadership of his choicest cavalry and war-chariots in hot pursuit of his former slaves. He reached them near the banks of the Red Sea and pressed them close to the water, in an effort to cut off their escape.

Fear gripped the children of Israel as they saw the pursuing hosts of their enslaver. Some groups among them were ready to fight the Egyptians; others preferred to drown in the floods of the sea than risk defeat and return to slavery. A third group of frightened and feeble people began to complain against Moses, fearing that he had lured them out of the safety of Egypt to die in the desert.

"Is it because there are no graves in Egypt," they exclaimed, "that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn't this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert."

But Moses, calm and firm in one of the most trying moments of his life, said: "Don't be afraid! Stand firm and see the Lord's salvation that He will wreak for you today, for the way you have seen the Egyptians is [only] today, [but] you shall no longer continue to see them for eternity. The Lord will fight for you, but you shall remain silent."

Then Moses led the Israelites onwards until they came to the very borders of the Red Sea. The pillar of cloud now changed its position; retreating from the front to the rear of the Hebrew hosts, it floated between the two armies. Over the Israelies it shed a brilliant light, while it spread a veil of darkness over the Egyptians.

But the Israelites seemed now helplessly hemmed in by overwhelming dangers: the Egyptians were close behind them, and the waves of the Red Sea were breaking at their feet.