Sometimes the circuitous route is preferable to the straight road. At the beginning of this Torah portion, God explains the choice of the way. The war is raging in the land of the Philistines. “The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt.”
The commentators explain this Divine action by bringing in other examples of the events when God purposefully put Israelities through the seemingly unnecessary trials and tribulations to experience His power and greatness.
As Rabbeinu Chanamel writes, “Had G’d led the Jewish people by the most direct route and had influenced the Philistines to let them travel through their country unmolested, it would have been a minor miracle. It would not have impressed the people with an appreciation of how G’d had exerted Himself on their behalf.”
However, there is a more subtle reason for this choice, beautifully presented by Chizkuni. “…G-d was aware that the Israelites were not yet in a condition to withstand the Satan, He decided not to give the Satan that opportunity at this time.”
Putting aside Satan, this is an incredibly astute observation. There is no need to drag the person who has just emerged from the stressful situation through even more stress, lest he might break down and give up altogether. Sometimes, led by good intentions and the desire to help, we press on people more than they can withstand at this very moment, but here God teaches us that it is necessary to step back and relax.