Ab'ner (Heb. Abner', אִבנֵר, once in its full form Abiner', אֲבַינֵר, 1Sa 14:50, father of light, i.e. enlightening; Sept. Α᾿βεννήρ, Josephus Α᾿βήναρος, Ant. 6:4, 3, elsewhere Α᾿βίνηρος), the son of Ner (q.v.) and uncle of Saul (being the brother of his father Kish), and the commander-in- chief of his army (1Sa 14:50 sq.), in which character he appears several times during the early history of David (1Sa 17:55; 1Sa 20:25-; 26:5 sq.; 1Ch 26:28). It was through his instrumentality that David was first introduced to Saul's court after the victory over Goliath (1Sa 17:57), B.C. 1063; and it was he whom David sarcastically addressed when accompanying his master in the pursuit of his life at Hachilah (1Sa 26:14), B.C. 1055. After the death of Saul (B.C. 1053), the experience which he had acquired, and the character for ability and decision which he had established in Israel, enabled him to uphold the falling house of Saul for seven years; and he might probably have done so longer if it had suited his views (2Sa 2:6,10; 2Sa 5:5; comp. 6:1). It was generally known that David had been divinely nominated to succeed Saul on the throne: when, therefore, that monarch was slain in the battle of Gilboa, David was made king over his own tribe of Judah, and reigned in Hebron, the old capital. In the other tribes an influence adverse to Judah existed, and was controlled chiefly by the tribe of Ephraim. Abner, with great decision, availed himself of this state of feeling, and turned it to the advantage of the house to which he belonged: of which he was now the most important surviving member. He did not, however, venture to propose himself as king; but took Ishbosheth, a surviving son of Saul, whose known imbecility had excused his absence from the fatal fight in which his father and brothers perished, and made him king over the tribes, and ruled in his name (2Sa 2:8). This event appears to have occurred five years after Saul's death (2Sa 2:10; comp. 11), an interim that was probably occupied in plans for settling the succession, to which Ishbosheth may have been at first disinclined. SEE ISHBOSHETH.
Nor, perhaps, had the Israelites sooner than this recovered sufficiently from the oppression by the Philistines that would be sure to follow the disaster upon Mount Gilboa to reassert their independence, at least throughout Palestine proper. Accordingly Ishbosheth reigned in Mahanaim, beyond Jordan, and David in Hebron. A sort of desultory warfare continued for two years between them, in which the advantage appears to have been always on the side of David (2Sa 2:1). The only one of the engagements of which we have a particular account is that which ensued when Joab, David's general, and Abner met and fought at Gibeon (2Sa 2:12 sq.), B.C. 1048. Abner was beaten, and fled for his life; but was pursued by Asahel (the brother of Joab and Abishai), who was "swift of foot as a wild roe." Abner, dreading a blood-feud with Joab, for whom he seems to have entertained a sincere respect, entreated Asahel to desist from the pursuit; but finding that he was still followed, and that his life was in danger, he at length ran his pursuer through the body by a back thrust with the pointed heel of his spear (2Sa 2:18-32). This put a strife of blood between the two foremost men in all Israel (after David); for the law of honor, which had from times before the law prevailed among the Hebrews, and which still prevails in Arabia, rendered it the conventional duty of Joab to avenge the blood of his brother upon the person by whom he had been slain. SEE BLOOD-REVENGE.
As time went on Abner had occasion to feel more strongly that he was himself not only the chief, but the only remaining prop of the house of Saul; and this conviction, acting upon a proud and arrogant spirit, led him to more presumptuous conduct than even the mildness of the feeble Ishbosheth could suffer to pass without question. SEE ABSALOM; SEE ADONIJAH. He took to his own harem a woman named Rizpah, who had been a concubine-wife of Saul (2Sa 3:7 sq.). This act, from the ideas connected with the harem of a deceased king (comp. Josephus, Apion, 1:15; Herod. 3:68), was not only a great impropriety, but was open to the suspicion of a political design, which Abner may very possibly have entertained. SEE HAREM. A mild rebuke from the nominal king, however, enraged him greatly; and he plainly declared that he would henceforth abandon his cause and devote himself to the interests of David. To excuse this desertion to his own mind, he then and on other occasions avowed his knowledge that the son of Jesse had been appointed by the Lord to reign over all Israel; but he appears to have been unconscious that this avowal exposed his previous conduct to more censure than it offered excuse for his present. He, however, kept his word with Ishbosheth. After a tour, during which he explained his present views to the elders of the tribes which still adhered to the house of Saul, he repaired to Hebron with authority to make certain overtures to David on their behalf (2Sa 3:12 sq.). He was received with great attention and respect; and David even thought it prudent to promise that he should still have the chief command of the armies when the desired union of the two kingdoms took place (De Pacto Davidis et Abneri, in the Crit. Sac. Thes. Nov. 1:651). The political expediency of this engagement is very clear, and to that expediency the interests and claims of Joab were sacrificed. That distinguished personage happened to be absent from Hebron on service at the time, but he returned just as Abner had left the city. He speedily understood what had passed; and his dread of the superior influence which such a man as Abner might establish with David (see Josephus, Ant. 7:1, 5) quickened his remembrance of the vengeance which his brother's blood required. His purpose was promptly formed. Unknown to the king, but apparently in his name, he sent a message after Abner to call him back; and as he returned, Joab met him at the gate, and, leading him aside as if to confer peaceably and privately with him, suddenly thrust his sword into his body. B.C. 1046. The lamentations of David, the public mourning which he ordered, and the funeral honors which were paid to the remains of Abner (2Sa 4:12), the king himself following the bier as chief mourner, exonerated him in public opinion from having been privy to this assassination (2Sa 3:31-39; comp. 1Ki 2:5,32). As for Joab, his privilege as a blood-avenger must to a great extent have justified his treacherous act in the opinion of the people; and that, together with his influence with the army, screened him from punishment. See JOAB.
David's short but emphatic lament over Abner (2Sa 3:33-34) may be rendered, with strict adherence to the form of the original (see Ewald, Dichter des alten Bundes, 1:99; comp. Lowth, Heb. Poetry, 22), as follows:
As a villain dies, should Abner die? Thy hands not bound, And thy feet not brought into fetters; As one falls before the sons of malice, fellest thou!
As to the sense of the words, J. D. Michaelis (Uebersetzung des alten Test.) saw that the point of this indignant, more than sorrowful, lament, lies in the mode in which Abner was slain. Joab professed to kill him "for the blood of Asahel, his brother" (2Sa 3:27). But if a man claimed his brother's blood at the hand of his murderer, the latter (even if he fled to the altar for refuge, Ex 21:14) would have been delivered up (bound, hand and foot, it is assumed) to the avenger of blood, who would then possess a legal right to slay him. Now Joab not only had no title to claim the right of the Goel, as Asahel was killed under justifying circumstances (2Sa 2:19); but, while pretending to exercise the avenger's right, he took a lawless and private mode of satisfaction, and committed a murder. Hence David charged him, in allusion to this conduct, with "shedding the blood of war in peace" (1Ki 2:5); and hence he expresses himself in this lament, as if indignant that the noble Abner, instead of being surrendered with the formalities of the law to meet an authorized penalty, was treacherously stabbed like a worthless fellow by the hands of an assassin. SEE HOMICIDE.
We find the name of a son of Abner, Jaasiel, subsequently appointed phylarch, under Solomon, of the trite of Benjamin (1Ch 27:21). (On the character of Abner, see Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. in loc.; Niemeyer, Charakterist. 4:343 sq. On his death, see C. Simeon, Works, 3, 327; H. Lindsay, Lectures, 2:30; R. Harris, Works, p. 231.) SEE DAVID.