You will remember that God had rescued the children of Israel from Egypt. He had cared for them in the wilderness, and brought them into the land that He had promised to give them. They had quite a struggle possessing the land because there were already people there. God had given them the task of overthrowing the people there. It might sound a little unfair of God to just decide arbitrarily to take the land off somebody and give it to the children of Israel. But you will remember that God had said, that in the land of Palestine -- the land of Canaan as it was known in those days -- the condition of those people was so bad that He would not allow them to continue to live there.
So under the leadership of Joshua, they moved into the Land of Promise, and little by little they began to overthrow the people who were living there, take possession of it, and settle in the land. It was a blessed situation for the children of Israel. God had given them a land that was plentiful, and after the terrible time that they had experienced in Egypt as slaves, and the awful forty years that they had spent in the wilderness, it really was wonderful for them to have the chance to live in the Promised Land.
For a while things went very well, but, as is often the case, when things get easier people get a little lax. As time went on, the children of Israel stopped honoring and obeying the Lord, and they stopped observing what He had told them to do. You remember that God was intent on bringing the children of Israel into that piece of real estate, and having them as a unique people to show the other people all around what a difference it makes when the Lord is their God. But unfortunately, the children of Israel began to lose their distinctives.
Now, God had promised them blessing, but He had also promised that if they did not live in obedience, and if they did not follow His dictates, and if they did not continue to honor Him, they could not assume that everything would go well for them. And that was precisely what happened.
Now they were surrounded by enemies. There was one particular group of people who began to give the children of Israel a very hard time. They were called the Midianites. They lived in the region called, of course, Midian. They were able to get the other tribal groups into a kind of alliance, and they began to make life very very difficult for the children of Israel. What they would do was, round about the time of harvest, they would come rushing down into the fields and into the farms where the children of Israel had been working on their crops. Just when they were expecting to harvest them, the Midianites and all their allies would come down and steal their harvest, or they would just set it on fire, and they were having an extremely difficult time with this situation. Now it's in that situation that Gideon comes on the scene.
The children of Israel for seven years had been putting up with the Midianites. They hadn't been able to do anything about them; they just had to suck it up and wish that eventually something would change. Then it dawned on them; the reason they were having a hard time was they were no longer trusting the Lord; they were no longer honoring Him; they were no longer living in obedience to him, and eventually, they kind of caught on. So they began to cry out again to the Lord.