Saul struggled enough with the issues occurring inside of his brain. He froze in fear, lashed out in anger, and generally lived his life from a defensive position. However, depression and family problems go hand in hand. Saul’s cousin and army commander, Abner, certainly didn’t help Saul in his struggle with mental health.
Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.1 Samuel 14:49-51 NIV
So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and [he and Abishai] left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep.
Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the hill some distance away; there was a wide space between them. He called out to the army and to Abner son of Ner, “Aren’t you going to answer me, Abner?”
Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”
David said, “You’re a man, aren’t you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn’t you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy your lord the king. What you have done is not good. As surely as the LORD lives, you and your men must die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?”1 Samuel 26:12-16 NIV
During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.2 Samuel 3:6 NIV
Depression & Family Problems
Because Abner is both Saul’s cousin and his army commander, he would see the effects of Saul’s mental illness firsthand. Theoretically, Abner worked the fields with Saul long before Samuel anointed Saul. Abner would have known his cousin’s insecurities and tendency to avoid situations out of fear.
I wonder if Abner knew these characteristics and changes in Saul and intended to use them to his advantage. Considering his play for power in 2 Samuel, I imagine Abner probably felt jealous that his cousin got to be king. Abner probably looked down on his cousin for his struggles. Perhaps he even manipulated Saul’s mental health to his advantage.
I didn’t find much detail on Abner’s intent in the Bible. Even in Abner’s dealings with Ish-Bosheth in 2 Samuel, his manipulation is implied more than stated. Regardless, Abner left Saul in a precarious situation when David and Abishai snuck into camp. If he didn’t protect his cousin physically, I doubt he supported Saul mentally and emotionally.