ABNER (ăb'nêr, Heb. ’ăvnēr, the father is a lamp). The son of Ner, who was the brother of Kish, the father of King Saul. Abner and Saul were therefore cousins. During Saul’s reign, Abner was the commander-in-chief of Saul’s army (1Sam.14.50). It was Abner who brought David to Saul following the slaying of Goliath (1Sam.17.55-1Sam.17.58). He accompanied Saul in his pursuit of David (1Sam.26.5ff.) and was rebuked by David for his failure to keep better watch over his master (1Sam.26.13-1Sam.26.16).
At Saul’s death, Abner espoused the cause of Saul’s house and had Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, made king over Israel (2Sam.2.8). Abner and his men met David’s servants in combat by the pool of Gibeon and were overwhelmingly defeated. During the retreat from this battle, Abner was pursued by Asahel, Joab’s brother, and in self-defense killed him (2Sam.2.12-2Sam.2.32).
Soon after this, Abner and Ish-Bosheth had a quarrel over Saul’s concubine. Ish-Bosheth probably saw Abner’s behavior with Rizpah as tantamount to a claim to the throne. This resulted in Abner’s entering into negotiations with David to go to his side, and he promised to bring all Israel with him. David graciously received him; Abner had not been gone long when Joab heard of the affair, and, believing or pretending to believe that Abner had come as a spy, Joab invited him to a friendly conversation and murdered him “to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel” (2Sam.3.6-2Sam.3.27). This seems to have been a genuine grief to David, who composed a lament for the occasion (2Sam.3.33-2Sam.3.34).
David grieved for Abner and gave him a princely funeral. The lament in fine parallel poetic verse is given in 2 Samuel 3:33, 34. This passage is of great antiquity and features some interesting terms. The short poem or dirge demonstrates a case of 1:2, or “staircase” parallelism. The two phrases, “Your hands were not bound,” and, “your feet were not fettered,” are in reverse order and in parallelism to the one phrase, “as one who fell before the enemies you fell,” and all are introduced by the question, “Should Abner die like a fool?” The people of Israel followed David in mourning for the dead commander. David’s extravagant grief was not only in honor of the victim but also indicated that he was not the instigator of the crime. This is made clear by the curse which he leveled upon those who had committed the crime (3:39). In this curse the patronymic of the brothers, the one himself a victim and the other a murderer, is used in the style of many another Biblical curse, e.g. Numbers 23:7-10. The overall effect of Abner’s career was favorable for the establishment of the blessing of the covenant through the rise of the house of David. Only two other references to Abner and his son are found in the OT; in 1 Chronicles 26:26-28 which records certain spoils of war dedicated to Jehovah, and 1 Chronicles 27:21 which records the son of Abner, Jaasiel, as a servant of David.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Captain of the host under Saul and Ishbosheth (Eshbaal). He was Saul’s cousin; Ner the father of Abner and Kish the father of Saul being brothers, the sons of Abiel (1Sa 14:50 f). In 1Ch 8:33; 9:39 the text appears to be faulty; read: And Ner begat Abner, and Kish begat Saul. According to 1Ch 27:21 Abner had a son by the name of Jaasiel. Abner was to Saul what Joab was to David. Despite the many wars waged by Saul, we hear little of Abner during Saul’s lifetime. Not even in the account’ of the battle of Gilboa is mention made of him. Yet both his high office and his kinship to the king must have brought the two men in close contact. On festive occasions it was the custom of Abner to sit at table by the king’s side (1Sa 20:25). It was Abner who introduced the young David fresh from his triumph over Goliath to the king’s court (so according to the account in 1Sa 17:57). We find Abner accompanying the king in his pursuit of David (1Sa 26:5 ff). Abner is rebuked by David for his negligence in keeping watch over his master (ibid., 15).
Upon the death of Saul, Abner took up the cause of the young heir to the throne, Ishbosheth, whom he forthwith removed from the neighborhood of David to Mahanaim in the East-Jordanic country. There he proclaimed him king over all Israel. By the pool of Gibeon he and his men met Joab and the servants of David. Twelve men on each side engaged in combat which ended disastrously for Abner who fled. He was pursued by Asahel, Joab’s brother, whom Abner slew. Though Joab and his brother Abishai sought to avenge their brother’s death on the spot, a truce was effected; Abner was permitted to go his way after three hundred and threescore of his men had fallen. Joab naturally watched his opportunity. Abner and his master soon had a quarrel over Saul’s concubine, Rizpah, with whom Abner was intimate. It was certainly an act of treason which Ishbosheth was bound to resent. The disgruntled general made overtures to David; he won over the tribe of Benjamin. With twenty men of them he came to Hebron and arranged with the king of Judah that he would bring over to his side all Israel. He was scarcely gone when Joab learned of the affair; without the knowledge of David he recalled him to Hebron where he slew him, "for the blood of Asahel his brother." David mourned sincerely the death of Abner. "Know ye not," he addressed his servants, "that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?" He followed the bier in person. Of the royal lament over Abner a fragment is quoted:
"Should Abner die as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: As a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so didst thou fall."
(See 2Sa 3:6-38.) The death of Abner, while it thus cannot in any wise be laid at the door of David, nevertheless served his purposes well. The backbone of the opposition to David was broken, and he was soon proclaimed as king by all Israel.
Max L. Margolis