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Abner Son of Ner

On December 7th at 11:09pm I had a vision, I had closed my eyes for a few minutes and I saw what looked like a sign coming down vertical, all black squares with white letters in it. It spelled the name Abner. As I opened my eyes, I clearly heard Abner son of Ner.

Biblically Speaking Abner, the son of Ner, was the commander-in-chief of Saul’s army in 1 Samuel 14, during his reign as king of Israel. As Saul's top general, Abner was a respected military commander and valued advisor to the king. He held one of the highest positions of power in the nation. He played a pivotal role in his military career of David. Although he became a staunch adversary to David in his flight from King Saul, David mourned for Abner when he died, granting his former commander full honors.

As David became more successful and famous, his role in the army under, Saul’s rule, fell under Abner’s command. We do not know how much influence Abner had in David’s life. However, it is not out of the question to conclude that Abner mentored David as he came up the ranks of the army.

As David’s popularity increased and the people of Israel began to praise David’s triumphs above the king’s triumphs.

1 Samuel 18:7
The women sang as they [a]played, and said,
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”

As Saul became more corrupted and neurotic, he grew angry and suspicious of David.

Before long, this tormented king viewed David’s prosperity as a threat. Saul suddenly turns on David and resolves to kill Him to do away with David ascending to the throne. His once-adopted son now becomes a fugitive and an exile.

During David’s ongoing flight, Abner remained loyal to King Saul, often leading the chase to apprehend David. God, however, was with David and delivered him from the hands of Saul, Abner, and the army on numerous occasions. David was anointed By God to be King and no amount of persecution, slandering him in the Kingdom, or hunting him down was going to change that.

On 2 occasions, David had chosen to spare Saul, whom he’d found unguarded in the caves of Engedi (1 Samuel 24). Sometime later, David and two of his mighty men infiltrated the camp of Israel and found Saul asleep, with Abner and the rest of his guard sleeping at his side. Rather than kill Saul, David again chose to spare the king’s life, believing God would certainly punish the one who struck His anointed king.

The next morning, David chastised Abner from a distance for failing to protect his king properly (1 Samuel 26:14-16).

1 Samuel 26:6-25
Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the people were lying around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear [c]to the ground with one stroke, and I will not [d]strike him the second time.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the Lord had fallen on them. 13 Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. 14 David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord. 16 This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, all of you [e]must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now, see where the king’s spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.” 17 Then Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord the king.” 18 He also said, “Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? 19 Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the Lord has stirred you up against me, let Him [f]accept an offering; but if it is [g]men, cursed are they before the Lord, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ 20 Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the Lord; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.” 21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.” 22 David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.

David never saw Saul again. Not long after, Saul and his sons were killed in battle with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 31 after consulting and breaking bread with the witch of endor. Abner, however, survived, becoming the de facto leader of the nation until he established Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, as the next king over Israel in 2 Samuel 2:8-11.

David had already been named king by the tribe of Judah in 2 Samuel 2:1-7, Abner’s coronation of Ish-bosheth only served to divide the nation and delay David’s rightful ascension to the throne, sparking a civil war in the process .

2 Samuel 2:8-31
But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, had taken [f]Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, even over all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he was king for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The [g]time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

Civil War
12 Now Abner the son of Ner, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon with the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met [h]them by the pool of Gibeon; and they sat down, [i]one on the one side of the pool and [j]the other on the other side of the pool. 14 Then Abner said to Joab, “Now let the young men arise and [k]hold a contest before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” 15 So they arose and went over by count, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. 16 Each one of them seized his [l]opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his [m]opponent’s side; so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called [n]Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon. 17 That day the battle was very severe, and Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David. 18 Now the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab and Abishai and Asahel; and Asahel was as [o]swift-footed as one of the gazelles which is in the field. 19 Asahel pursued Abner and did not [p]turn to the right or to the left from following Abner. 20 Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is that you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.” 21 So Abner said to him, “[q]Turn to your right or to your left, and take hold of one of the young men for yourself, and take for yourself his spoil.” But Asahel was not willing to turn aside from following him. 22 Abner repeated again to Asahel, “Turn [r]aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?” 23 However, he refused to turn aside; therefore Abner struck him in the belly with the butt end of the spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died on the spot. And it came about that all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still. 24 But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and when the sun was going down, they came to the hill of Ammah, which is in front of Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon. 25 The sons of Benjamin gathered together behind Abner and became one band, and they stood on the top of a certain hill. 26 Then Abner called to Joab and said, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the end? How long will you [s]refrain from telling the people to turn back from following their brothers?” 27 Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely then the people would have gone away in the morning, each from following his brother.” 28 So Joab blew the trumpet; and all the people halted and pursued Israel no longer, nor did they continue to fight anymore. 29 Abner and his men then went through the Arabah all that night; so they crossed the Jordan, walked all morning, and came to Mahanaim. 30 Then Joab returned from following Abner; when he had gathered all the people together, [t]nineteen of David’s servants besides Asahel were missing. 31 But the servants of David had struck down many of Benjamin and Abner’s men, so that three hundred and sixty men died.

Shortly after Abner had established Ish-bosheth as king in his father’s place, a title God had already bestowed upon David, the commander of Saul’s army traveled to Gibeon to meet with Joab, David’s nephew and the commander of David’s army. There, the two leaders engaged in a contest of champions to see whose side won. Each side brought 12 of its finest warriors, but all 24 died, bringing no resolution 

Why Did Joab Kill Abner?
As Abner left the contest, Asahel, the swift-footed younger brother of Joab, pursued the much older general. Abner warned the ambitious Asahel to turn back, but he refused. As Asahel closed the gap, the more experienced Abner impaled Asahel with the butt end of his spear, killing him on the spot (2 Samuel 2:18-23).

Abner’s actions began a civil war with Abner, the house of Saul, and the armies of Israel fighting David, his mighty men, and the tribe of Judah.
As the war escalated, the Bible tells us that “Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul”

2 Samuel 3:6-11
It came about while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David that Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. 7 Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and [b]Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” 8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman. 9 May God do so to Abner, and more also, if as the Lord has sworn to David, I do not accomplish this for him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” 11 And he could no longer answer Abner a word, because he was afraid of him.

What exactly this means is up for debate. However, we read that Abner claimed Rizpah, a concubine of King Saul, for himself Some would have viewed this as a move to seize Saul’s power. We see this same issue arise with King Solomon and his brother Adonijah.  While his motives may be unclear, Ish-bosheth perceived Abner’s actions as an attempt to claim the throne and accused Abner of sedition (2 Samuel 3:7).

Sedition: conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.

In any case, Ish-bosheth’s accusation angered Abner, who was outraged by the king’s lack of appreciation for putting him on the throne. Remember it was Abner who established the throne of Ish-bosheth.

Abner Then committed to handing the kingdom over to David. Once again, this could have been a political move, or an attempt to gain favor from those he believed would ultimately win. However, Abner declaring his support convinced the remaining tribes of Israel to support David over Ish-bosheth. So Abner is involved in literally tipping the scales and the political support of an entire nation.

Shortly after Abner had met with David under a banner of peace, Joab summoned the elderly commander back to Hebron, unbeknownst to David. He then murdered Abner to avenge Asahel’s death. This is in 2 Samuel 3:26-30.

When David discovers that Abner had been killed in cold blood, especially after he had just made peace with his former mentor and commander, his anger burned against Joab. As good as a commander Joab was, he shed a lot of unnecessary blood, and brought trouble upon the House of David. David publicly reprimands Joab for his violent act of retribution, David encouraged the nation to lament for Abner and give him a proper burial and full honors.

David never regarded Saul or Abner as enemies per say. Yes, they delayed his ascension to the throne, slandered him, and hunted him without cause. They forced him to flee his home, abandoning palace comforts for the hard life as a fugitive on the run. However, David never treated the Lord’s anointed king as his enemy or as someone he had any right to harm. David understood that in the case of the King, vengeance was the Lords.

Vengeance and retribution belong to the Lord and to Him alone. God had anointed Saul, and God alone had the only right to remove him when He saw fit to do so. Unlike Joab, David’s heart was never set on retribution but on restoration.

The throne of Israel was also not David’s to claim. All thrones, like all crowns, belonged to the Lord. They are given as He wills and at appointed times, and could be taken just as easily.  
Lastly, God’s timing was not David’s. It would be years before David sat on the throne of Israel, something he had been anointed to do as a young man. Whether Saul, Ish-bosheth, or Abner, whoever held power over Israel was there for a reason. All David could do was trust God’s timing and hold to the promises of God when things didn’t seem to make sense, or his path seemed unclear.

David could mourn for someone most of us consider an enemy. Why? Because David stopped seeing Saul and Abner as obstacles to “his” success. Instead, he saw them as instruments in God’s sovereign plan for his life—a plan including enemies, obstacles, and valleys. That plan, if God was writing it, was ultimately good. David could confidently write in God alone:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalms 23:4)

1 Comment

Deborah Musgrove - December 12th, 2023 at 10:17am

Insightful and thoughtful provoking. Thank you.