“But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army,” Abner the son of Ner was Saul’s first cousin and thus a very close relative. He was the commander of Saul’s army. Although he was the commander of Saul’s army, he is not portrayed in a good light in Scripture, and sought power and position for himself. He certainly did not have a strategy for defeating Goliath even though he was the commander of Saul’s army at the time (1 Sam. 17:55). In the time that David was in Saul’s army, it was David, not Abner, who led the army in successful campaigns against the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:5, 13-16). Also, in the war with the Philistines in which Saul and three of his sons died, Abner somehow managed to escape. Also, although Abner knew David was God’s chosen king (2 Sam. 3:17-18), he decided to make Saul’s son king instead, which could only have been due to his desire for power and influence. He worked to gain influence in Ish-bosheth’s kingdom (2 Sam. 3:6-7), and when it looked like things would not go well and he was in open conflict with Ish-bosheth, he worked to shift the kingdom to David, likely hoping for a powerful position there (2 Sam. 3:9-21). His lack of military awareness was displayed and ended when he was killed by Joab. He had recently killed Joab’s brother (2 Sam. 2:18-23) and should have known that Joab would hold a grudge about it, but he seems to have been blissfully unaware of it and it cost him his life.
Looking at the career of both Saul and Abner, it seems Saul appointed Abner to be the commander of his army in large part because of his family relation to Saul. In the end, that turned out badly for Saul, Abner, and the people of Israel who all suffered because of it. Sadly, it is common for leaders or bosses to place others in jobs because of personal favoritism rather than actual qualifications. Leaders who do that knowingly, and thus cause others to suffer, will suffer for it themselves on Judgment Day, but in the meantime, believers can rest in the knowledge that when Jesus is king on earth the people in leadership positions will be qualified for them.
[For more about when Christ rules the earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“Ish-bosheth.” This is the same person as Esh-baal, see commentary on 1 Chronicles 8:33.
“brought him over the Jordan to Mahanaim.” The location of Mahanaim is still debated, but it is agreed that it is east of the Jordan River and likely near the Jabbok River.