Quite the shortest route for the children of Israel to the Promised Land would have been through the land of the Philistines.
However, G‑d wanted to give the newly born Jewish nation the opportunity to throw off the remnants of Egyptian influence, and to educate them in the new ways of a holy life, through the Divine Torah, which was to be given to them on Mount Sinai.
Furthermore, the shortest way to the Holy Land would have involved the people in a war with the Philistines, and it was doubtful whether the children of Israel, who had just left centuries of continuous slavery behind, would be strong enough to fight like free men; they might decide to return to Egypt rather than face a bloody war. Therefore, G‑d led the Jewish people in a roundabout way which took them through the desert to the Red Sea.
After three days, Pharaoh received word of the progress of the children of Israel. The unexpected direction of their march made him think that they had gotten lost in the desert.
Pharaoh now regretted that he had permitted them to leave. He therefore mobilized his army and personally took the lead of his choicest cavalry and war chariots, in hot pursuit of his former slaves.
He reached them near the banks of the Red Sea and pressed them close to the water, in an effort to cut off their escape.
Some groups of the Jewish people were ready to fight the Egyptians; others preferred to drown in the floods of the sea than to risk defeat and a return to slavery.
A third group of frightened and feeble people began to complain against Moses, fearing that he had lured them out of the safety of Egypt to die in the desert. “Because there were no graves in Egypt,” they exclaimed, “have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you done this to us, to lead us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”
But Moses, calm and firm in one of the most trying moments of his life, said: “Fear not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today: for as you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again no more forever.
The Lord will fight for you, and you shall keep yourselves quiet.”
Moses led the Jewish People onwards until they came to the very borders of the Red Sea. The pillar of cloud now changed its position; for, retreating from the front to the rear of the Hebrew hosts, it floated between the two armies.
Then G‑d spoke to Moses: “Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.”
Moses did as G‑d ordered him. He raised his staff, and stretched his hand over the sea; a strong east wind rose and blew the whole night. By that storm, the waters of the Red Sea were divided, and gathered into a wall on either side, leaving a dry passage in the midst.
The Jewish People marched at once along that dry path which extended from shore to shore, and gained the opposite side in safety.
The Egyptians continued their pursuit, without hesitation, in the same track. But the wheels of their chariots became clogged in the bed of the sea, and glided off. They were unable to proceed; and they felt that they were once more vainly struggling against the Lord.
They turned to flee, but it was too late; for at the command of G‑d, Moses stretched forth his staff, and the waters resumed their usual course, closing over the chariots and horses and warriors, over the whole host of Pharaoh. “There remained not so much as one of them.”
Thus G‑d saved the children of Israel from the Egyptians on that day. Israel saw His great power; they recognized G‑d and believed in Him and in His servant Moses.
Then Moses and the entire congregation sang this Song of Praise to G‑d for their miraculous rescue:
“I will sing unto the Lord for He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and song, And he is become my salvation; This is my G‑d, and I will glorify Him; My father’s G‑d, and I will exalt Him.
The Lord is master of war, The Lord is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He cast into the sea, And his chosen captains are sunk in the Red Sea.
The deep waters cover them; They went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
And in the greatness of Your excellency You overthrow those that rise up against You; You send forth Your wrath; it consumes them as stubble.
And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, The floods stood upright as a heap; The deep waters were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said: I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.
You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; They sank as lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the mighty?
Who is like unto You, glorious in holiness, Awesome in praises, performing wonders?
You stretch out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them.
You in Your love have led the people whom You redeemed; You guided them in Your strength to Your holy abode.
The nations have heard, they trembled; pangs of fear gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom were terrified; The mighty men of Moab, trembling took hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
Terror and dread fell upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are as still as stone; Until Your people pass over, O Lord, until the people pass over which You have acquired.
You bring them in, and plant them an the mountain of Your inheritance,
The place, O Lord, which You have made for You to dwell in, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
As the last words of the song died away, Miriam seized her timbrel, and followed by a multitude of Hebrew maidens and women, went forth in procession dancing and chanting:
“Sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously exalted; the horse and its rider has He thrown into the sea.”