“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.’”
Instead of going the short route through the Philistines, where they might have to face a war, Yahweh led them into the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites were prepared for a battle against the Egyptians. Moses took with him the bones of Joseph.
“They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. Yahweh went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
So they left Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, near the Red Sea. Yahweh went in front of them in a pillar of cloud during the day and in a pillar of fire at night. Fire and clouds were normal ways of expressing God’s presence and guidance.