Introduction to Sefer Yehoshua

Author: Devora Segal, Tishrei 5765/Oct 2004

Sefer Yehoshua is a very positive, refreshing book of the TaNaCH, the Bible, in that there is virtually no sin in the book. (The only real sin seen is that of Achan stealing the spoils of Yericho, and he was an individual sinning, not a whole nation.) This is unlike other books of the TaNaCH where sin is rampant. See Yehoshua 23:14 :'And behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth and you shall know with all your hearts and with all your souls that not one thing of all the good things that the Lord your God has spoken concerning you has failed'.

The book starts where the Torah left off. Moshe has just died and Yehoshua is the new leader. After 40 years in the desert, the nation is now ready to enter into Eretz Canaan. They are faced with the daunting task of having to conquer the land. The book begins with words of encouragement to Yehoshua, he then sends spies to check out the land, they enter the land, fight and conquer it, divide it into the tribal portions and set up society including the cities of refuge and the cities of the tribe of Levi. This is the book in a nutshell.

Conquering the land: According to traditional commentaries, this process took 7 years. (Based on calculation from Ch. 14:10, '..these forty-five years from the time the Lord spoke these words to Moses') Many wars are recorded in the book, but most are not (we see in Ch. 12 - Shirat Yehoshua - a list of 31 kings who were defeated without any mention of those wars in the book). There must be a reason for mentioning certain wars and not others. The ones that are mentioned have a miraculous element to them, and show divine intervention. (These will be studied more in depth during the course of our learning.)

It is unclear how much of the land was actually conquered. On the one hand, it seems as if all the land was conquered (see Ch 11:16), while half of a chapter is dedicated to how much of the land was not conquered (see Ch 13:1 and rest of chapter). The commentary in Daat Mikra seems to conclude that most of the land actually was conquered, but within the borders lay pockets of area not conquered. Even the land which was not conquered was still included when dividing the land into nahalot, the allotted areas for the tribes. At the end of his life, Yehoshua warns the nation that in the future, the non-Jews among them will cause them trouble and lead them to idol worship.

References to the Torah: Throughout the book, there is much parrallel language with that of the Torah. (See Daat Mikra - 13 pages dedicated to these similarities) These similarities give legitimacy to Sefer Yehoshua, they connect us with the Torah and remind us that although Sefer Yehoshua is not divinely written as the Torah was, it has still got a real connection.

Who is Yehoshua? At the beginning of the book, Bnei Yisrael have just lost the only leader they have known, Moshe, who had a direct connection with God. They face years of war. They are now presented with a new leader. Who is Yehoshua and why is he fit to lead? For this, let's look back to the Torah and study the character of Yehoshua:

1) Exodus 17:8-15 War with Amalek Here he is seen as an army general. "Place in the ears of Yehoshua" - a reference to the future, he will be the one to lead the nation into Eretz Yisrael, and not Moshe.

2) Exodus 24:13 Matan Torah Yehoshua is with Moshe, goes up mountain, but not as far. He's described as "mesharet Moshe", serving Moses - he doesn't reach the level of Moses.

3) Exodus 32:17 Sin of Golden Calf Yehoshua, the army general, hears war. He's there at the nation's low point.

4) Exodus 33:11 Description of Moshe speaking to God from Ohel Moed, The Tent of Meeting.. Moshe speaks directly to God. Yehoshua described as "na'ar", a youth (but he's an army general!), this is in relation to the greatness of Moshe.

5) Numbers 11:28 Eldad and Medad Yehoshua described as a "bahur" , a young man, again, this may be describing his spiritual level in relation to Moshe.

6) Numbers 13:16 Chet HaMiraglim, The Sin of the 12 Spies

He doesn't particitpate in the sin. Again, Yehoshua is there at the nation's low point.

7) Numbers 27:15-22 Moshe passing the reins to Yehoshua. It's not clear at first that Yehoshua will be picked; why not Moshe's sons? Moshe doesn't even complain, but actually does the "smicha", the 'ordaining' wholeheartedly and generously (see Rashi, Nehama Lebovitz)

In summary, Yehoshua is fit to lead - he is present at the nation's highest points and lowest points. He is Moshe's student. Although he has not reached Moshe's stature, he learned directly from him. He has proven himself as a military leader (against Amalek) and a moral leader (didn't join in sin of spies).