When Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go, Yahweh leads his people on a round-about journey through the wilderness rather than a shortcut through the land of the Philistines. This is because God knows his people will change their minds if they go directly from captivity into warfare. So, the Lord takes them toward the Red Sea, where they camp at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.
Exodus 13:21-22 picks up the story:
The LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people.
Note several key truths in this passage:
First, the Lord goes ahead of the Israelites. He has vowed to lead them to the Promised Land, and he may be taken at his word.
Second, the Lord is in the pillar. The pillar of cloud and fire is a real phenomenon the Israelites experience with their senses – a theophany in which Yahweh crosses the threshold between the spirit realm and the physical world.Continue reading