In The long history of the Jewish People, there were three men who founded this family/culture. They were Abraham, Isaac ( his son) and Jacob (the grandson whose name got changed to Israel when he smartened up and stopped being a jerk). Jacob (Israel) had twelve boys (from various wives ...whose rivalry lay behind much of the later tensions) each of whom later went on to form twelve tribes, named after each of the boys.
One of the youngest boys, Joseph, (depicted in the popular musical "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat") annoyed his older brothers, who eventually got rid of him by selling him as a slave to traveling merchants heading to Egypt. Joseph made out very well, got promoted as a civil servant and eventually was in charge of the wheat reserves stored up for times of famine. His older brothers approached the now grown-up younger brother for relief from the famine, and he gave it to them, bringing the whole family to Egypt.
After 400 years of living in Egypt the emigrants had been put into slave labour building pyramids etc. and needed to be set free to start again in life as a community. A man named Moses eventually managed to get them out of Egypt, intending to take them to where they had lived before moving to Egypt, as they felt that God had "promised" this land to the original ancestor, Abraham. It is for this reason that the area of Israel (named after the grandson, father of the 12 boys), is sometimes referred to as "The Promised Land", and the larger group are frequently referred to as "the Children Of Israel")
The rift between the brothers dating back to when the 12 boys were still at home, lingered in the community. Ten tribes lived in the more prosperous area of the country in the North, and two (Judah and Benjamin) lived in the rocky region in the south. One of the early kings, David (author of many of the psalms, and of "David and Goliath" fame) consolidated the two groupings of tribes and made his capital at Jerusalem, which had belonged to neither group. His son Solomon consolidated the new Kingdom and took it to its highest position of wealth and power. When Solomon died, there was a civil war (on and off for 200 years) between the collection of ten tribes in the north (who kept the name Israel) and the two tribes in the south (who took the name Judah, after the son who had been the patriarch of the larger of the two southern tribes).
Eventually the northern group was conquered by the Assyrians, and 100 years after that the south fell to the Babylonians. Assyria, Babylon and Persia were like three brothers tumbling around on the floor ...sometimes one would have the upper hand, and then the other. The rise of Persia resulted in the exiles from the south being permitted to go back and re-start their community life together in and around Jerusalem. This was the start of the "Jewish" community, named after the patriarch of the South, Judah, but now incorporating the remnants of all twelve tribes.
Joshua was the leader who took over from Moses and led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy (which comes just before the book of Joshua) is essentially Moses final speech to the group before they left for the Promised Land and he went off up a mountain and died as an old man.
The story was that earlier on, Moses had lost his temper when the community ran out of water, and instead of speaking to the rock and telling it to give forth water (as God told him to), he had whacked the rock with his stick. He got the water, but he gave a bad example to the people watching – he did not model trust in God to provide in a bad situation, but rather modeled his own frustration. As a punishment for this, God told him that he would take them up to the edge of the Promised Land, but he would not be allowed to cross over and lead them in the next phase of their life together as a community.
One other piece of background, is that after Moses led the people out of Egypt, helping them to escape into the desert where he formerly had been a shepherd, he found that he had a group of people who had been slaves for many generations, and that as the saying goes, he got the slaves out of Egypt, but now he had to get Egypt out of slaves. They wandered around for 40 years until the old people died off, and the younger people, like Joshua, who had grown up as tough desert warriors, had taken over leadership of the fledgling community.
Joshua was one of 12 spies who had been sent into the Promised Land just after the escape from Egypt, to check out what the Promised Land was like, and what the prospects of success would be if they attacked right away. 10 out of the 12 spies said it was great, but that there was no way they could win a battle against the current inhabitants. The two dissenting votes came from Joshua and a man named Caleb. Although these two men had been slaves in Egypt, they had attitudes more typical of the younger generation – they wanted to attack, and felt that they could win.
There is a stained-glass window in the University of Winnipeg which depicts, in part, two men carrying a pole between them with a huge cluster of grapes – the story of people coming back with the riches of the Promised Land from their spying expedition.
Just after Moses goes up the mountain to look off in the distance to the Promised Land where the people are going to cross over and attack, God makes this opening statement to Joshua who is going to take over the leadership position. The fledgling community is faced a daunting task, and God wanted to reassure Joshua that he would be okay, and to give him some advice as to how to go about maintaining his courage over the coming years.
This passage has spoken to many people down through the centuries who also feel they lack courage to do impossible tasks. Chapter 1 takes the story up to the end of the point when the small community accepts Joshua's leadership, and agrees to work with him in the task that lies ahead. Leadership, no matter how good, depends on good followership if it is to be successful. Moses could not get the followership needed to attack 40 years earlier, but Joshua in this passage, was able to secure the confidence of the community regarding his leadership.