Abner - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Ps.76:10 "Human anger only results in more praise for you;" (GNB)

Reading : 2Sam.3 :1-34

Men strut on the stage of history for a few hours and the vast majority pay scant attention to the Lord – the only thing that concerns them is how they might further their own interests. But we are not to imagine that such are outside the sovereign control of Almighty God as though they are operating in some alternative world over which he exercises no control. All men, even wicked men who have no desire to conform their lives to the law of God, yet unwittingly further the divine plan. This by no means excuses their behaviour but it does give the believer grounds for maintaining a quiet confidence in the face of turbulent events.

This is a truth that appears and reappears with some frequency in the Bible and this evening we will see it illustrated in the life of Abner.

Who was Abner?
We discover all we know about Abner in the history books of the OT. He figures as an actor in both 1+2Samuel and his name is also very briefly mentioned in 1Kings and 1Chron.

When we first encounter Abner he is introduced to us as a cousin of King Saul and we learn that he served his cousin as the commander in chief of his army in his war against the Philistines. (1Sam.14:50)

Occupying this important position gave Abner ready access to the king and he had the honour of regularly sitting at the king’s own table. When David killed the giant Goliath it was to Abner that King Saul turned in order to find out just who this David was and it was Abner that brought David to Saul (cf.1Sam.17).

For much of his life Abner followed and promoted the interests of the house of Saul – for it was here that he thought his own personal interests were to be found.

Events in Abner’s Life
David stayed with Saul for several years after Abner had brought him to the king. He served him well becoming very popular with the people and with Saul’s own son Jonathan – too popular as far as Saul was concerned. Tensions grew and grew until after a series of attempts were made on his life David withdrew from Saul’s court. A rift had developed which would never be healed. David was now treated as an outlaw and rigorously pursued by Saul and his armies which were led by our man Abner.

On one occasion Saul was told the whereabouts of David and went after him in the wilderness of Ziph. During the night while Saul slept David slipped into his camp unnoticed. He had the opportunity of killing Saul there and then but David refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Instead he simply took Saul’s spear and water jug that had been by Saul’s head – these would serve as proof that David had no plans to do hurt to Saul.

David again slipped away from Saul’s camp and crossed the valley before going up the hill opposite. From there he called out addressing himself not to Saul but to Abner!

He was about to accuse Abner, the commander of the king’s army, of dereliction of duty. It was part of Abner’s responsibility to protect his king but he had allowed a potential enemy to get far too close. The criticism made in such a public and irrefutable manner must have stung a proud soldier like Abner.

Saul recognised, in an increasingly rare moment of lucidity, that David posed him no threat and stopped hunting him. For a while at least David would know some respite. The Philistines were at the time a more pressing menace and Abner continued to lead Saul’s. I wonder in doing so whether Abner harboured a degree of bitterness towards David for the dressing down he had received – he would remain stubbornly opposed to David for a good few years yet.

The war with the Philistines did not however go well. Previously David had fought for Saul against them and he had won many accolades but David was now in exile and the Israelite army was defeated. King Saul was killed along with three of his sons. The nation was in a mess.

Following the death of Saul David returned to Hebron and shortly after was anointed King over the tribe of Judah. Years earlier the old seer Samuel following the Lord’s instructions had anointed David as the king of the Lord’s choosing to replace King Saul whom he had rejected (1Sam.16) – was this the moment that everything would fall smoothly into place?

Well, no it wasn’t and Abner had a big part to play in it all.

2Sam.2:8-10 "But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David."

While still alive Saul knew that he had been rejected by God and he knew that his son Jonathan wouldn’t succeed him – he knew the throne belonged to David the man God had chosen. And Abner knew this too! Indeed we will find him openly saying so a number of years later. And yet he was prepared to plunge the country into a civil war by supporting a man he knew was not the Lord’s choice.

Why did he act like that?

Well, we can only surmise that he did so because he thought that he could best pursue his own interests by supporting the House of Saul in which he already had secured for himself his position of importance.

On Tuesday afternoon Geoff Gobbett reminded us from Ps.119:30 that it is vitally important for us to choose to do the right thing – the thing that God declares to be right. Abner chose just the opposite – there were serious consequences that flowed from that choice both for the nation and for Abner himself. We are responsible for the decisions that we take but God will never be thwarted in accomplishing his purposes as later events in Abner’s life will so clearly demonstrate.

Well with the civil war launched Abner hardly covered himself with glory. In a battle at Gibeon it is he who suggests to Joab who is David’s commander in chief that their young men should fight before the two armies. Two groups of 12 are chosen from each side and they proceed to kill each other before the main battle takes place – what was the point of that?

In the event Abner and the men of Israel are roundly defeated and take to flight. Joab gives chase and his youngest brother races after Abner. After issuing him a couple of warnings Abner kills young Asahel a fact which will sour any future relations with Joab. Eventually after further loss of life Abner calls upon Joab to call his men off and stop the fighting – he is openly admitting defeat but the battle has been a costly one for him: he has lost 360 men to a mere 20 of Joab’s men.

Abner was a soldier with blood on his hands – both the blood of his enemies and the blood of his own men.

The civil war had not come to an end though the outcome was beginning to look inevitable even on a human level – David’s position was becoming ever stronger while that of Ish-bosheth ever weaker (2Sam.3). Maybe it was about now that Abner began to think about jumping ship and changing allegiance. Where were his interests likely to be served best? That was what drove him.

Whether or not Abner had always been a proud arrogant man I’m not sure but he certainly saw himself as a big fish, the big fish, in Ish-bosheth’s pond.

And a big fish can do what it likes, can’t it? A big fish doesn’t have to live according to the same standards as everyone else does it? So Abner made a power play. That’s how his action would have been and was interpreted by Ish-bosheth. Abner took one of his father’s concubines for himself. A few years later Absalom was to try the same trick but Solomon would be wise enough to see through it all:

1Kings 2:22 "King Solomon answered his mother, "And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also,"

Ish-bosheth probably understood Abner to be positioning himself for taking power and challenges Abner who immediately flies off the handle. He doesn’t deny the charges or seek to explain himself instead he rants and raves about how dreadful it was that he should be treated like this – he of all people! Surely such a man as he should be above reproach above recrimination as he seeks to trivialize the sordid nature of the whole matter.

Abner now acts out of offended pride. He jettisons the policy he has followed his whole life up to this moment in time. He is angry, so angry, that Ish-bosheth is cowed into silence – what can you say to a man in such a state?

Now is the time for Abner to jump ship. Why stay and try to take control of a cause that is already going down the tubes? Far better to cut your losses and run to the other side especially while you’ve still got some strong cards to play.

Abner is a man of principle alright and this is it: look after N°1!

Abner’s response to criticism is to shout and complain: after all I’ve done for you he cries making out that Ish-bosheth is the one in the wrong. And it is then that he betrays himself as to what his true motives really are.

Abner wasn’t interested in doing the right thing ie. the Lord’s will he only wanted to feather his own nest. He even has the audacity to swear by the name of the very God whose will he has been deliberately and consciously opposing for several years!!

2Sam.3:9-10 "God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba."

And at this point Abner sent messengers to David:

v.12 "on his behalf."

Isn’t that telling? But it exactly sums up the way Abner lived his life. He might make great pretence of loyal service but in reality he was only seeking to serve himself. It is a sin that is all too easy to fall into and one for which I’m sure we find it all so very easy to justify or at least to put a very good face on it all.

Pride mixed with personal revenge makes for a heady mix – Abner is not serving God whatever he might protest with his lips, he is simply serving his own lusts!

And yet, and yet... God’s purposes are not thwarted but advanced.

Abner had offered to bring all the kingdom under David’s sway and David is happy to agree to such an offer. He makes just one condition – his first wife Michal must be brought back to him.

Was this a good or a bad request? The Bible doesn’t give us a simple answer and Bible readers will draw their own conclusions. Personally I don’t think this shows David in a very good light. Michal had remarried and so had David. The return of Michal brings grief to her second husband and the relationship between David and Michal certainly fails as becomes evident in subsequent chapters.

It was one condition that could have been a deal breaker for Abner so he steps in he won’t allow Michal’s second husband any influence at all and simply sends him home.

All is now just about in place for the final pieces of the plan to come together. Abner must confer with the leaders of Israel. Now we discover that for some time they have wanted to see David installed as king over them – in other words Abner had been standing in their way too as he had persisted in supporting his own interests by supporting the house of Israel! Once again, Abner highlights that it was indeed the Lord’s will and purpose to have David as king and he puts forward his plans as though his only motivation is to honour God whereas in reality it was all triggered not by reverence for God but by a fit of personal pique!

Agreement is however quickly reached and it is hardly any time before Abner and a delegation of twenty men are ready to pay David a diplomatic visit.

David gives them a warm welcome feasting them. Abner addresses David with words that suggest a new loyalty and a new commitment:

"my lord, the king" he says (v.21).

As Abner is sent away to carry out his side of the bargain he must have felt that he was furthering his own cause very nicely thank you very much. He was convinced David had a good opinion of him and trusted him.

But it was all about to change and come crashing down around him.

It shouldn’t surprise us as the Scripture does warn us:

Num.32:23 "behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out."

Joab had been away on a mission when Abner and his delegation arrived. By the time he got back Abner was already on his way home.

Now Joab was not a particularly nice man, indeed he was violent and every bit as self-centred as Abner. He thought he smelled a rat in what Abner was doing – or was it just that he feared losing his own preferential place to this man whom he hated already as the murderer of his young brother?

After remonstrating with David Joab went after Abner though David didn’t know this. Pretending he had a private message Joab took Abner to one side and there cold-bloodedly killed him.

And so ended the life of a self-serving man. He died a fool’s death – struck down by ruse. David wanted people to know that he had not been responsible for Abner’s death and commended Abner as "a prince and a great man" (v.38) but he really was nothing of the sort – he was an opportunist who maintained his loyalty to the house of Saul in the face of the Lord’s rejection of Saul, he fought against David all the while knowing that David was truly the Lord’s anointed, he was proud and arrogant.

Abner leaves us no example to follow but should we be unwise enough to do so there is a Saviour who can save even the chief of sinners, the truly anointed One, the great Son of David, who has mercy on the most needy of sinners.

Despite all the self-serving manipulation that is evident in this section of OT history or indeed through such misguided and misdirected loyalty the Lord God accomplished his purposes and his anointed king was brought to reign over his people.

Despite the warring factions in the NT of on the one hand the various Jewish authorities and on the other, the Romans, the Lord God accomplished his purpose of seeing his Son lay down his life as a voluntary sacrifice to pay the price of his people’s sins.

Truly the wrath of man does serve to bring praise to the Lord!


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