When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (Exodus 13:17-22 ESV)
Note the kindness and patience of Yahweh as He leads His people out of Egypt. The quicker route led through the land of the Philistines and though the people were equipped for battle, a war at this point would have tested them beyond their limits, so God sends them on a seemingly safer route by way of the Red Sea. They must have wondered if they would ever see this day, but their patriarch Joseph did not. He had made Israel promise that when they did return to Canaan they would bury his bones there, and so Moses takes the remains of Joseph with them.
God gives them an unprecedented means of direction and protection, His own presence manifested in a pillar of cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at night. They merely followed it to know that they were on the path of His choosing. We may long for such a guidance system. What would it be like to have a cloud, even a small version, leading our every decision? That would end up being a lot of pillars of cloud attending every believer’s way, and a clear sign to unbelievers of God’s presence and power. It would be a strange world, to say the least. It is not God’s normal way of communicating Himself. It made sense for this mass of people (perhaps a million or two) making their way a good distance through wilderness, but not for us individually. We are encouraged to listen to the Lord for leadership through His Word and through His witness to our spirits within. And the two will always match. Nevertheless, His protection is always at the ready and though He may permit harm to come to us as part of His plan, we may know that nothing does occur in our lives except it is filtered through His hands.