Consecration of the Firstborn (13:1–16)
The Journey to the Red Sea (13:17–22)
17–19 The Lord planned to lead the Israelites along a southerly route across the Sinai Peninsula. The shortest route eastward led through the land of the Philistines located along the Mediterranean coast. The warlike Philistines would likely have fought with the Israelites and discouraged them. The Israelites were armed for battle (verse 18), but their weapons were only spears, bows and slings, and they could not have stood against the better-armed Philistines. The Israelites may even have chosen to return to Egypt rather than fight the Philistines. So the Lord did not lead them that way. The Lord doesn‚t always lead us the shortest way; He leads us the best way.
Moses carried the bones of Joseph with him (verse 19), according to Joseph‚s request to his brothers (Genesis 50:24–25).
20–22 The exact route the Israelites took is not known; many of the places they stopped at cannot be identified today. The point at which they crossed the Red Sea37 (verse 18) also is not known. But it almost certainly was north of the present-day Gulf of Suez; it’s possible that at that time the Red Sea extended farther north than it does today.
The Israelites themselves may not have known exactly where they were! But that was not important. They had a guide, the angel of God (Exodus 14:19)—that is, the manifestation of God’s presence with them.38 Just as the Lord had appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2), so He now appeared to them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In this way, the Lord provided them with shade during the day and light during the night. Whenever the pillar of cloud and fire moved, the Israelites were to follow (see Numbers 9:15–23 and comment). For the Israelites, as for us, it’s not as important to know where we are going as it is to know who we are going with (Hebrews 11:8).