The book of Yehoshua takes over where the Five Books of Moses (Chumash) end, and continues until the death of Yehoshua in the year 2516 – 1244 BCE; just as Yehoshua took over as the nation’s leader. Yehoshua’s first mission was to help the Jews regroup after their devastating loss of Moses, the greatest prophet in history, and lead them across the River Jordan into the Land of Israel.
At first glance, this is where Jewish history ends. The people crossed the river and triumphantly marched into their new home. They proceeded to live happily ever after (except for some minor trouble with the Romans a few years later). But in a sense, this is really where Jewish history begins. The forty years in the wilderness were forty years of intense Torah study, forty years of preparation for the demanding task of living Torah lives in a real, challenging country. There was going to be no shortage of problems and challenges.
Aside from the newly-returning Jews, there were a number of other nations living in Israel at the time. As you might imagine, they were not terribly excited about the new guys claiming to be their landlords. The process of dealing with these nations one at a time would fill nearly five hundred years. A great deal of the book of Yehoshua is devoted to the efforts of the people to conquer the land, and then to divide it among the twelve tribes.
The Jews, who had until now been slaves (and later, wilderness scholars) had to become farmers and landowners. Not just any farmers and landowners, but farmers and landowners who live at the high spiritual level they had attained in that great, forty-year wilderness Yeshiva. There were now new and unique problems presented by this new and unique set of circumstances. Helping this young nation mature was Yehoshua’s second task.
The ultimate task of Yehoshua (and of the leaders who would follow him over the next five centuries) was to lay the groundwork for the first Jewish commonwealth whose center would be the Temple in Jerusalem.
The story of Yehoshua is the story of the Jewish nation’s second step in its long journey towards perfection.