We are first introduced to Abner as the commander of Saul’s army and his cousin (see 1 Sam. 14:50-51). When David killed Goliath, Abner stood by Saul’s side (see 1 Sam. 17:55). Over time, Abner would have been a witness to David’s conquests and Saul’s growing dislike of David. As a member of Saul’s inner circle, he witnessed the heated exchange between Saul and Jonathan that led to David fleeing (see 1 Sam. 20). Abner remained allegiant to Saul, but that allegiance would be questioned.
While being pursued by Saul and his army, David and Abishai slipped into camp and took Saul’s spear and water jug. This was the second time David refrained from killing Saul. David then stood on a mountain and woke up Saul and Abner. David showed the spear and jug, questioning Abner’s ability to faithfully guard the king. (See 1 Sam. 26.)
When Saul died, Abner took Ishbosheth and set him up to be the successor to Saul’s throne, showing a continued allegiance to family. Abner did so in spite of knowing that God had declared David to be the successor of the throne (see 2 Sam. 3:9-10). His allegiance to Ishbosheth would soon shift when Ishbosheth accused Abner of seeking the throne for himself. Suddenly, Abner reminded Ishbosheth of God’s plans for David, which is ironic since Abner was the one who installed Ishbosheth as king in the first place. Abner then reached out to David, offering to help him end the civil war (which Abner contributed to) by bringing all the tribes of Israel under David’s rule. With Abner’s help, David’s throne was unified. Abner was allowed to go in peace by David, but others exacted revenge on Abner for the death of a brother.
Throughout Abner’s life, he appeared to change his allegiance: Saul, Ishbosheth, God, and then David. Behind all those shifts, one sees his real allegiance: to himself. We see this in his declaring of God’s promise that David would be king with Abner making this declaration to the person he had set up as king in the first place. He used God’s promises when the promise was convenient and benefited him. Abner was amazingly consistent his entire life: his allegiance to himself never changed.
Before we dig up more dirt on Abner, we need to take a look at our own allegiances. We too may be like Abner, declaring an allegiance that is really a mask for our true allegiance: ourselves. We must ask ourselves why we are allegiant to Christ, to His church, to people in our lives. Are we allegiant out of pure motives or are we really acting on selfish motives? Abner was admirable in many ways, knowing how to maneuver through change and political crisis. Yet, he did so not as a servant to society and others, but as a servant to himself.
What lessons can we gain from the life of Abner? How can we serve others out of a pure motive for honoring God?