As I was writing yesterday about the rumors in Jericho about the God of Israel, how they all knew what He did for His people at the Red Sea, something struck me that is definitely worth thinking about:
God parted the Red Sea, and Israel walked through. They were on their way to the Promised Land (read: to Jericho) when they got sidetracked by their disobedience and set to wander for 40 years in the wilderness.
Now, I don't think someone waited 40 years to tell Jericho. I don't think that's the kind of message that you sit on. Most of what I've read says that the journey from the Red Sea to the Jordan should have taken just less than two weeks, if Israel had made it straight through, and that tells me that someone took off running from the Red Sea to warn the peoples of Canaan. They would have had to travel faster than the nation of Israel to get there in time, and they might even have had horses or camels to help them get there. But the point is - you want to get there well before the people of God get there so that the inhabitants of the land have time to plan.
I think, then, that it is most plausible that the people of Jericho heard about what God did approximately a week after it happened. Maybe less.
The people of God for whom He just parted the Red Sea are nowhere in sight. They aren't coming. They aren't knocking on the door. No one sees them on the other side of the Jordan. There's just horizon. Just empty horizon.
So you'd have to think that whatever the people of Jericho were thinking when they heard the news had to start to fade when Israel was nowhere to be found. When another week passed with nothing, then another, then another, that talk you hear so much about in Israel's account of the wilderness starts to sound a little true - maybe God brought them out there to kill them all. Maybe they're all dead.
After all, they should be here by now.
I would think that after awhile, whatever fear you've had of the Lord would start to fade some. Especially after the first year. Definitely after the second. By forty years, you'd think that whatever the people of Jericho thought and felt when they first heard about the Red Sea would have dissipated, at least a little bit. How scared can you be of a God who can't get His people across a two-week journey in a span of forty years?
But the people of Jericho say that's not at all what happened. When the spies from Israel show up, what they hear is, "We heard, and we're afraid."
Not "We heard, and we were afraid for awhile, but you're nothing now." No, "We heard, and we're afraid." Everyone is afraid. The people of Jericho have not stopped believing that the God who parted the Red Sea is the same God who is bringing His people into their land.
Even if the people of God themselves seem to have stopped believing it.
Isn't that amazing?