The Vindication of Saul
(ז) וַיִּקַּח֩ צֶ֨מֶד בָּקָ֜ר וַֽיְנַתְּחֵ֗הוּ וַיְשַׁלַּ֞ח בְּכׇל־גְּב֣וּל יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ בְּיַ֣ד הַמַּלְאָכִ֣ים ׀ לֵאמֹר֒ אֲשֶׁר֩ אֵינֶ֨נּוּ יֹצֵ֜א אַחֲרֵ֤י שָׁאוּל֙ וְאַחַ֣ר שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל כֹּ֥ה יֵעָשֶׂ֖ה לִבְקָר֑וֹ וַיִּפֹּ֤ל פַּֽחַד־ה' עַל־הָעָ֔ם וַיֵּצְא֖וּ כְּאִ֥ישׁ אֶחָֽד׃
(7) He took a yoke of oxen and cut them into pieces, which he sent by messengers throughout the territory of Israel, with the warning, “Thus shall be done to the cattle of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” Terror from the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.

Saul’s call to war is similar to that implied in the victory song of Deborah in Judges 5; there is clearly a shared sense of ethnic belonging across the territories of Israel. Saul’s symbolic/prophetic gesture of dispatching the pieces of dismembered oxen and sending them to the Israelite-Hebrew towns elicits the expected response, and men are sent to fight from the tribal territories. What is most interesting, however, is that Saul does not have the confidence to muster the fighting men of the tribes on his own authority. He calls the tribes out in the name of ‘Saul and Samuel.’ Before the anointing of Saul it was Samuel — as a judge — who would have been expected to call the tribes to war.

It is likely that this is a reverberation of the 'worthless fellows' or 'scoundrels' in 1 Samuel 10:27 who doubted Saul’s ability to יָשַׁע ('save,' 'deliver,' or 'be victorious').

(כז) וּבְנֵ֧י בְלִיַּ֣עַל אָמְר֗וּ מַה־יֹּשִׁעֵ֙נוּ֙ זֶ֔ה וַיִּבְזֻ֕הוּ וְלֹא־הֵבִ֥יאוּ ל֖וֹ מִנְחָ֑ה וַיְהִ֖י כְּמַחֲרִֽישׁ׃ {פ}

(27) But some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” So they scorned him and brought him no gift. But he pretended not to mind.-l

At Mizpah, when he was chosen as king, there was certainly more than a hint that he was considered a weakling or a coward (1 Samuel 10:22). In calling the people to war, then, in a time of emergency, he appeals to the authority of Samuel the judge.

(כב) וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ־עוֹד֙ בַּֽה' הֲבָ֥א ע֖וֹד הֲלֹ֣ם אִ֑ישׁ {ס} וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה' הִנֵּה־ה֥וּא נֶחְבָּ֖א אֶל־הַכֵּלִֽים׃
(22) They inquired of the LORD again, “Has anyone else come here?”-j And the LORD replied, “Yes; he is hiding among the baggage.”

It is his victory at Jabesh-gilead that ultimately secures the confidence of the people in his ability to rule. All power is negotiated; in the case of the kings of Israel, it is the king’s ability to be victorious in battle that guarantees his throne. It is noted that no one offered to kill those who doubted him at Mizpah until he proved himself in war.

(יב) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הָעָם֙ אֶל־שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל מִ֣י הָאֹמֵ֔ר שָׁא֖וּל יִמְלֹ֣ךְ עָלֵ֑ינוּ תְּנ֥וּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֖ים וּנְמִיתֵֽם׃ (יג) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֔וּל לֹא־יוּמַ֥ת אִ֖ישׁ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֥י הַיּ֛וֹם עָשָֽׂה־ה' תְּשׁוּעָ֖ה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
(12) The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it said, ‘Shall Saul be king over us?’ Hand the men over and we will put them to death!” (13) But Saul replied, “No man shall be put to death this day! For this day the LORD has brought victory to Israel.”