Though there are elements of the kingship as described by Samuel that can easily lead us to view it as leaning towards having exilic qualities, and though such ideas are reinforced by the Lord speaking to Samuel (upon Samuel’s first seeing Saul) and saying “Here is the man that I told you about! He will rule over My people” (1 Samuel 8:17b)---as rule over God’s people by anybody but God is never a good thing, and clearly linked with exile---God enters in so as to favorably alter the situation. Shortly after Samuel is informed of the Lord’s decision in this area, “Samuel took a small container of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head. Samuel kissed him and said, ‘The Lord has chosen you to lead His people Israel! You will rule over the Lord’s people and you will deliver them from the power of the enemies who surround them’.” (10:1a) Let us note that, though there is a deliverance, there is still a subjection to a less-than-ideal ruler, who is liable to bring the exilic curses upon the people.
However, let it also be said that not only is this an indication of God’s enduring favor upon His specially chosen people, but the language of exodus is used, as Samuel speaks of delivering (redeeming) Israel from its enemies. This causes us to quickly re-trace this theme through the Scriptures, to see that Saul is now linked with many that preceded him in quasi-kingly roles. God told Moses from the burning bush, “I have come down to deliver them (Israel) from the hand of the Egyptians… and I will send you to bring my people… out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:8a,10). When we meet Gideon in the book of Judges, the Lord says to him, “You have the strength. Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (6:14b) Samson is introduced in similar terms, as his parents are informed that “He will begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines” (13:5b). Though it is a move forward in Scripture, we can also point out that this is the language used of Jesus, when Joseph is informed that Jesus “will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b).
Being saved from sins, of course, rather than this being primarily intended for personal application in the quest to determine the final disposition of one’s eternal soul in either heaven or hell, is a means of speaking of deliverance from exile, as the sins of God’s people (idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, and failure to reverence the sanctuary---failure to accomplish God’s purposes to be lights in the world that are reflective of His glory) is what would bring about exile. In connection with Jesus, Zechariah (the father of the John the Baptist) speaks of God raising “up a horn of salvation for us… that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:69b,71a). A bit later in Luke, when the man Simeon took Jesus in his arms when His parents brought Him to the Temple, he says “my eyes have seen Your salvation” (2:30). That is the language of deliverance. Also, in His own words, Jesus styles Himself as a deliverer in the synagogue at Nazareth, when He quotes from Isaiah and declares part of His vocation as He applies the words to Himself, saying that He is there “to set free those who are oppressed” (4:18b). Once again, that is the language of deliverance from foreign subjugation. We should note that this puts Saul, at least initially, in very, very good company, as God, just as He would do for all of His deliverers, “changed his inmost person” (10:9a).
When God speaks of deliverance, there is most definitely a reason for it. When used in the stories of Moses, Gideon, Samson, and Jesus, it is clear that the deliverance is from exile and from foreign subjugation. Deliverance-speak is most certainly exodus-speak, so even though the people’s request for a king is akin to idolatry and is also somewhat akin to demanding subjugation to what is essentially a foreign and fallen power (in terms of the result of the fall of man and his becoming a foreigner to his Creator God’s purpose for him), we note God’s gracious entrance to turn the situation to His people’s good by His promise to Saul to work through him to deliver the people from the power of their enemies, just as He did with Moses, Gideon, and Samson. This, of course, indicates that Israel was in fact in some type of exile.
Though the most recent subjugation was brought to an end under Samuel, as the seventh chapter notes that “the Philistines were defeated,” that “they did not invade Israel again” because “The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel,” that “The cities that the Philistines had captured from Israel were returned to Israel,” and “Israel also delivered their territory from the control of the Philistines” (7:13-14a). This situation, as far as the Biblical record is concerned, is unchanged when we meet Saul and he is anointed king, yet deliverance is necessary, indicating exile is an existing condition. This would lead us to consider that the state of exile is that of spiritual exile, as Israel, though in control of their territory, was not effectively engaged in the fulfillment of God’s commandments for them, and are not fully committed to the worship of the Lord alone. The situation with Samuel’s corrupt sons, and obviously the insistence on a man to lead them and to take God’s place as the true judge and leader and fighter of battles for His people (8:20), with the Lord linking this with idolatry, points us in this direction.