As NIGHT came, another miracle took place. The cloud glowed! The darker the sky became, the brighter the cloud turned, until it was like a giant flame overhead. To add to the astonishment of the Israelites, a lesser glow extended back from the flame to spread a soft radiance for the campers!
Next Morning's Events
At dawn the extended light gradually turned into a cooling vapor just heavy enough to shield the marchers from the sunlight that later in the day would otherwise produce misery and even injury. Their next camp was on the border of Egypt in Etham. A little while after the column left Etham, people were surprised to see the cloud swerve directly southward. Knowing this wasn't the direction of Canaan, some of the leading men contacted Moses to concernedly remind him that they were going the wrong way. Moses patiently explained that God was leading the way, and that any who failed to follow the cloud were risking being lost. "But following that cloud south will put us on the west shore of the Red Sea!" the concerned ones argued. "We'll be cut off from ever getting to Canaan!" Moses knew that it looked that way, but he trusted God. Man has always, apart from some exceptions, struggled against God's directions. He has generally chosen to go in the ways that appear best to him. Many sincere leaders throughout history have taken others in wrong directions by relying on their limited, unreliable, human reasoning. The beginning of wisdom and knowledge is fear of God. (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10.) Fear and respect can be shown by obedience and reliance.
The Israelites who complained didn't agree with Moses, but they didn't want to turn back by themselves. The column moved on past the town of Migdol and was then lead to the southwest. A few miles ahead loomed a range of barren, arid mountains. Off to the left was the Red Sea, fifteen miles across. It appeared the column was marching into an impassable spot in Egypt.
Back in his palace at Memphis, the disturbed Pharaoh's mind was on the Israelites. Already he was beginning to regret letting them go. He had heard of how his people had given liberally of their wealth to the Israelites. This irritated him as much as did Israel's taking all their livestock with them. He considered pursuing them to retrieve these losses, but he was fearful that his chariots would become stuck in the sands of the Etham desert, just east of Egypt, where he imagined they were at the time. His reverie was interrupted by the entrance of one of the spies he had sent previously to see what the Israelites would do. "They didn't go into the Etham desert," the spy disclosed to the surprised king. "Their trail led east for a few miles and then turned south along the west shore of the Red Sea!" "If this isn't true, you'll die!" Pharaoh snapped, jumping excitedly to his feet.
A short while later hundreds of war chariots and cavalrymen thundered out of Memphis, headed by Pharaoh and his top officers. The excited king wanted desperately to take advantage of direction change by the Israelites to overtake them as soon as possible.
At the Red Sea
Meanwhile, the Israelites arrived at a point near the Red Sea where ominous mountain peaks jutted up like a giant, unfriendly wall. In spite of this, the cloud continued to move as though beckoning them to come into the narrow spaces between the mountains. Again some of the elders came to warn Moses not to go on. "This is madness!" they declared. "Even if we manage to get through the mountains, the wider the Red Sea will be between us and Canaan!" With Aaron's help Moses calmly assured the protesters that as long as the people obediently looked to God, matters would turn out in their favor. While heads shook in doubt, a mounted Israelite swiftly rode up, gesturing excitedly to the north. "The Egyptians are coming!" he yelled. "How do you know?" Aaron asked. "I saw a huge dust cloud off to the north as I was rounding up some of my stray animals far behind the column!" the man panted as agitated men swarmed around. "I rode as fast as I could to tell you!"
"Do others know about this?" Moses inquired. "Of course!" was the answer. "I shouted the alarm all the way down the column! People were naturally upset!" The babble of voices around grew greater. Moses and Aaron were the only ones to remain calm. They had learned from God hours before that Pharaoh and his army would pursue. "On your way back to the rear, spread the word to the people that God has told me He will take care of us," Moses told the man. (Ex. 14:13-14.) The dismayed crowd dispersed. Just as the sun slid behind the peaks, the cloud halted. As the troubled people prepared to camp, a messenger from Moses rode back along the column to tell the people to move forward as far as possible without crowding. Several miles to the north the Egyptians were excited to see the rear of the Israelite column. Pharaoh was jubilant. He was anxious to close in on his intended victims, but darkness was rapidly coming on. "We'll have to stay here for the night," an officer told the king. "No need to worry about the Israelites getting away from us. They're trapped between the mountains and the sea!" Pharaoh couldn't have been more pleased. The frantic, jostling, wearing dash by chariots for over fifty miles was worth it to know the Israelites couldn't escape. He eagerly looked forward to next morning, when he could seize their property and avenge his son's death by slaughtering the Israelites, most of whom at that moment were in a state of terror while trying to settle down to a rest for the night. A great part of them believed Moses was to blame for their being endangered. These made the early part of the night miserable by wailing and loudly voicing their emotions. "We never wanted to leave Egypt!" they yelled. "We would be better off there than murdered here!" (Ex. 14:10-12.)
Moses Stills the People
Those who didn't have this attitude prayed as the bitter shouting increased. Among them was Moses. After asking God for help, he climbed to an elevation from where many could hear him. "This display of fear, complaint and confusion is displeasing to God!" he called out. "The only voices He wants to hear now are those asking for His protection! Don't be afraid! Be patient and see how your Creator will rescue you! Those of you who have looked back to see the Egyptians approaching have seen them for the last time!" (Verse 13.)