Abner: Commander in Chief of Saul’s Army


The honest compliments of an opponent are often the best measure of someone’s greatness. Although Abner and David frequently saw each other across battle lines, the Bible gives a glimpse of the respect they had for each other. As a young man, David had served under Abner. But later, Saul’s campaign to kill David was carried out by Abner. After Saul’s death, Abner temporarily upheld the power of the king’s family. But the struggle between Abner and Saul’s heir, Ish-Bosheth, brought about Abner’s decision to support David’s claim to the throne. It was during his efforts to unite the kingdom that Abner was murdered by Joab.

Several years earlier, in a battle between Ish-Bosheth’s army under Abner and David’s forces under Joab. Abner fled and was pursued by Joab’s brother, Asahel. Abner to Asahel twice to stop following him. But the eager young soldier refused, so Abner killed him. Joab was determined to avenge his brother.

Abner realized Saul’s family was doomed to defeat and that David would be the next king, so he decided to change sides. He hoped that in exchange for his delivering Saul’s kingdom, David would make him commander in chief of his army. David’s willingness to accept this proposal was probably another reason for Joab’s action.

Abner lived by his wits and his will. To him, God was someone with whom he would cooperate with if it suited his plans. Otherwise he did what seemed best for him at the time. We can identify with Abner’s tendency to give God conditional cooperation. Obedience is easy when the instructions in God’s Word fit in with our plans. But our allegiance to God is tested when his plans are contrary to ours. What action should you take today in obedience to God’s Word?

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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Commander in chief of Saul’s army and a capable military leader
  • Held Israel together for several years under the weak king Ish-Bosheth
  • Recognized and accepted God’s plan to make David king over all Israel and Judah

Weaknesses and Mistakes

  • He had selfish motives in his effort to reunite Judah and Israel rather than godly conviction
  • He slept with one of the royal concubines after Saul’s death

Lesson From His Life

  • God requires more than conditional, halfhearted cooperation

Vital Statistics for Abner

  • Where: Territory of Benjamin
  • Occupation: Commander of the armies under Saul and Ish-Bosheth
  • Relatives: Father: Ner. Cousin: Saul. Son: Jaasiel
  • Contemporaries: David, Asahel, Joab, Abishai

Key Verse for Abner

Then the king said to his men, ‘Do you not realize that a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel this day?’ “ (2 Samuel 3:38)

Abner’s story is told in 1 Samuel 14:50 – 2 Samuel 4:12. He is also mentioned in 1 Kings 2:5, 32; 1 Chronicles 26:28; 27:16-22.

Scripture Study Resources

ESV Study BibleStudy Bibles give you a deeper understanding of God’s Word with tools for life application like commentary, maps, charts, concordance, and study notes. Search our popular translations- NIV, ESV, NKJV, KJV and more!

Believer’s Bible Commentary: Second Edition – A Bible commentary is a written, systematic series of explanations and interpretations of Scripture. Commentaries often analyze or expound on individual books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Some commentary works provide analysis of the whole of Scripture.

The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible – The best concordance for word study! This exclusive new edition of a legendary classic puts generations of biblical research at your fingertips. A valuable tool for pastors, teachers, and students of the Bible. 

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words – This classic word study resource allows you to study the meaning of biblical words in the original languages without spending years learning Greek or Hebrew. A great resource for students, seasoned pastors, and anyone who enjoys biblical word studies–even if they have little to no formal training in Hebrew or Greek.

Halley’s Bible Handbook – The beloved and classic Bible companion has been thoroughly updated, while retaining its time-honored features and Dr. Halley’s highly personal style, to offer even greater clarity, insight, and usefulness.

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