Avner ben Neri, or AviNer son of Ner, or Abner, was a general for King Saul. His name means “father of flame” or light, or “my father is light”. He was loyal and dedicated to duty and his death was a tragedy.
We first encounter him as Saul’s chief military man, and he points out David as the slayer of Goliath. Saul was killed in a disastrous battle, along with Jonathan, his heir. Abner, being loyal, sets up Saul’s son as king in succession, and there is an uneasy standoff as the succession is disputed with David (who was already anointed by Samuel).
David ruled from Hebron, and Saul’s son Ish-boshet from over the Jordan in Mahanaim.
The one serious military encounter between the two occurred at Gibeon and involved champions for each side fighting. David’s champions won. Abner fled, so Asahel, brother of Joab (David’s general), pursued him. Asahel fought Abner despite being warned of Abner’s prowess, and was killed. Joab, as his brother, was traditionally entitled to wreak revenge.
Abner fell out with Ish-Boshet when he took Saul’s former concubine Rizpah as his wife. Of course, Ish-Boshet had nothing to complain about as Abner was a loyal adviser, but Ish-boshet thought he detected pretensions to the throne. Abner, therefore, switched sides and in doing so brought back Michal, Saul’s daughter, who had been taken away by her late father from David and given to another man. Joab, however, saw his chance, and slew Abner at the gates of Hevron, ostensibly to avenge his brother.
David was ostentatious in showing this was not his own desire nor had he given any orders to do this. He mourned for Abner, fasted, and buried him, weeping on his grave.
Ish-Boshet was assassinated, but his assassins did not gain anything, as David had them executed for being disloyal.
- Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is executive director of Chabad
of Belgravia, London