Israel did not ask Samuel to appoint a king for the right reasons, but that did not keep God from giving them a king (1 Sam. 8). When He gave them their first king, Saul, the Lord even promised that Saul would save the Israelites “from the hand of their surrounding enemies” (10:1). Although some men in Israel did not believe that Saul could rescue them (v. 27), the new king soon proved himself up to the task as long as he operated in the power of the Lord.
Today’s passage tells us about Saul’s initial success as king of Israel. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide some important background information for 1 Samuel 11, explaining that the tribes of Gad and Reuben, who lived east of the Jordan River, had suffered greatly at the hands of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. Nahash then moved to consolidate his control of the Israelite areas on that side of the Jordan, besieging Jabesh-gilead, a town in the portion of the tribal territory of Manasseh that lay east of the Jordan. Jabesh-gilead’s leaders attempted to make a peace treaty with the Ammonites, but the Ammonites said peace would come only when they gouged out all the right eyes of the Jabesh-gileadites and disgraced Israel (vv. 1–2).
The town then asked Nahash for the chance to defend itself, and apparently, Nahash gave the people a brief respite in order for them to ask the other Israelites for help (vv. 3–4). This might seem strange to us, but it is not odd in the history of warfare for a dominant power to delay conquering an enemy in order to defeat it in the most humiliating fashion possible. By delaying the “inevitable,” Nahash gave the people a chance to suffer more fear and pain as they awaited the battle.
The Ammonites’ domination, however, was quickly overcome. As had happened several years earlier with the Israelite judge Jephthah, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul, giving him victory over the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:5–11; see Judg. 10:29–33). As the Lord promised, He used Saul to save the Israelites from their enemies (1 Sam. 10:1), and this happened when Saul followed the leading and empowering of God and when the people came together as one under the leadership of the king (11:6–7). Thus we see that when God’s people are united under the leadership of God’s appointed, obedient king, there is nothing that they cannot accomplish.
In thanksgiving to the Lord, the people then renewed “the kingdom.” They came to Him in worship, affirming His choice of Saul as king (vv. 12–15). Things were looking up, but that would not last.