The reason the nation wanted a king was fear of invasion from its neighbours. Here is an example of such an attack, from the Ammonites, who wanted to enslave Israel by making them incapable of fighting (that is why they wanted to remove one eye from each opponent). It is not surprising that the Israelites feared such an attack.
But there is something very important missing in the response of the men of Jabesh-Gilead, and that is that they did not pray about the matter. Instead they attempted to bargain with the enemy. The people of the city are an example of both the national and the spiritual weakness of the Israelites.
Gibeah was where Saul lived, and when the news of the fate of Jabesh-Gilead reached Gibeah the inhabitants wept, perhaps out of a sense of sympathy but also perhaps with a sense of dread, for the enemy was only twenty miles away. What is surprising is that the men of Gibeah did not think that Saul, although he had been made king, could help them.
This is not too surprising when we see what the newly-crowned king was doing – he was ploughing one of his fields. While it is dangerous to speculate, it does look as if he was still reluctant to take the offensive against the enemies of his people. Perhaps he did not know what to do.
When he discovered the cause of the weeping, Saul was suddenly empowered by the Holy Spirit. This coming of the Spirit, although a supernatural empowering, does not mean that Saul was a true believer (the evidence for that possibility must come from other sources). What is clear is that the Spirit came on Saul to help him in this crisis.
It was common for the Spirit to come upon judges of Israel in this manner: Othniel (Judg. 3:9-10); Gideon (6:34); Jephthah (11:29), and Samson (14:19). What were the effects of the coming of the Spirit?
Firstly, the initial effect of the Spirit coming on Saul was anger at the situation. This is a reminder that it is appropriate to be angry at wrong situations. I would term this response jealousy for the Lord’s cause.
Secondly, the Lord made the people willing to follow Saul, so there was harmony in the Lord’s people where there had been disunity – I think the disunity is suggested by the mentioning of men from both Israel and Judah.
Third, Saul had wisdom to know what to do in the situation, so there was an effective strategy among the leaders. Intuitively Saul knew what to do about the situation. Although he had many more soldiers than Gideon had on a previous occasion, Saul may have imitated the scheme of Gideon against the Midianites when he divided his troops into three and attacked at night.
Fourth, Saul was enabled to bring victory to the Lord’s cause. The enemy was totally defeated and the trembling inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead.