Usurpation by Puppetry
We discuss a biblical example of usurpation by puppetry, whereby an extraneous power colludes with a witless accomplice as puppet to capture state powers. The puppeteer was Abner, commander of Israel’s army under Saul. His puppet was Saul’s son Ishbosheth. After Saul died, Abner appointed Ishbosheth king, circumventing the people’s process for making a king. Subsequent events showed Abner enabled usurpation by Ishbosheth in order to launch war against David to win power for himself. When the arrangement began to collapse, he dropped Ishbosheth like hot potato and initiated negotiation to transfer rulership to David. However, Abner and Ishbosheth met sudden and violent death through acts of other citizens. Although their sudden demise may indicate divine judgment over a usurper, a future study in this series will illustrate human responsibility in lawful opposition against a usurper.
This study continues our miniseries on usurpation of government under The King and the People series. We discuss an example from the bible, in which the usurper acted under control by a powerful enabler that sought power for himself but chose to use a puppet king as his channel. Unlike the previous example under Recognizing Usurper 1of2, in which usurpation was planned and executed essentially alone by the usurper; this example focuses on usurpation by puppetry, whereby an extraneous power colludes with a witless accomplice as puppet to capture state powers. The frontal usurper cherished power but was clearly aware and fearful of the puppeteer. Subsequently, his feeble attempt to regain a measure of authority from the master ignited a rift that led to collapse of the arrangement.
The puppeteer was Abner, commander of Israel’s army under Saul. His puppet was Saul’s son Ishbosheth. After Saul died, Abner appointed Ishbosheth king, circumventing a well-established process of the people for making a king. He did not consult with the people or seek their authority. He wanted to control the affairs of Israel but recognized his only option to claim legitimacy was to go through Ishbosheth as a puppet. He usurped power for Ishbosheth to begin establishing control over Israel. Then, he launched war against David but was defeated in the first battle. Thereafter, having realized his puppetry arrangement was unlikely to hold, he bolted from Ishbosheth to initiate negotiations for transferring rulership to David.
Both Abner and his puppet Ishbosheth met sudden death from violent acts of other citizens, much like Absalom from the previous study. Their sudden demise could be interpreted to indicate divine judgment of a usurper, especially in the absence of a people-established due process for human adjudication. Additionally, our next study under this series will illustrate human responsibility in lawfully opposing a usurper. The current study focuses on usurpation of the throne of Israel by Ishbosheth with Abner as enabler.
Ishbosheth Usurps Throne of Israel
After Saul died, David moved to Hebron from exile in Philistine. The people of Judah met in Hebron and made him king over the tribe of Judah: “Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah” [2 Samuel 2:4]. Sensing an opportunity to contest for power over Israel, commander of Saul’s army Abner appointed Ishbosheth king [2 Samuel 2:8–9]: “Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.”
Seeking Power through Civil War
It appears Abner enabled usurpation by Ishbosheth in order to launch war against David to win power for himself. After making Ishbosheth king, Abner declared war against David and Judah but was defeated in the first and only battle (2 Samuel, 2:10–32). Going to war against David maybe was an attempt by Abner to continue Saul’s unsuccessful contest aimed at suppressing David to keep the kingdom of Israel in the house of Saul. However, Abner needed the authority of king to claim legitimacy for his civil war. He could have tried to make a case to convince the people of Israel that they needed a new king to wage war against David and Judah. Instead, he sought complete control of the contest against David, maybe expecting to be victorious and win greater power for himself.
He circumvented the authority of God and the authority of the people of Israel and appointed Ishbosheth king because he wanted control over the king in launching his effort at suppressing David. He wanted power for himself but did not believe he could convince the people of Israel to make him king or support him in a civil war against David. Therefore, he made Ishbosheth king to use him as puppet to declare war against David and gain power for himself. However, his plan did not go well for him. He was successful in launching the war but his ambition was snuffed out as he was defeated in the first battle.
The account of Abner-Ishbosheth usurpation of the throne of Israel reveals certain characteristics of a usurper as follows.
- No Respect for Due Process: The usurper and enabler are propelled by desire for power and control. They will circumvent society norms and practices and ignore any laws and customs they can. They want to capture power at any cost, irrespective of failing to satisfy requirements under due process. For example, Abner was aware of the process for choosing a king in Israel and could have explained same to Ishbosheth. However, he ignored the process and made Ishbosheth king without seeking authority from the people and Ishbosheth accepted.
- No Respect for Institution of Government: A usurper has no respect for the institution of government. They don’t mind working as puppet for an extraneous enabler that uses them to gain illicit access to control government institutions. For example, Ishbosheth accepted usurpation not minding that Abner was using him to gain unauthorized and absolute control of state power.
- Loyalty to Extraneous Interest: The usurper is loyal only to the puppeteer, usually with parochial interest different from the interest of the state. He/she is beholden to, and will implement the bidding of, the puppeteer over the people’s interest.
End of Abner-Ishbosheth Alliance
The alliance between Abner and Ishbosheth was short-lived. After Abner was defeated in the first and only battle of the civil war he started, Ishbosheth accused him of sleeping with Saul’s concubine Rizpah. Abner was enraged and promised to initiate conversations to transfer the kingdom of Israel to David [2 Samuel 3:9–10]: “May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.”
Abner initiated discussion with David as he promised. However, although the discussion proceeded and ultimately led to David being made king over a unified Israel, the discussion didn’t go well for Abner. David’s commander Joab murdered Abner in cold blood at the conclusion of Abner’s first meeting with David [2 Samuel 3:27]: “Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.” The death of Abner rattled Ishbosheth and caused him to lose courage. He didn’t last long himself after that, because two men murdered him in his house.
Judging a Usurper
The people that murdered usurpers Abner and Ishbosheth were judged and punished for their crime but there was no discussion of punishment for the usurpers. David condemned Joab in no uncertain terms for killing Abner [2 Samuel 3:29]: “May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.” Also, he condemned and executed the men that killed Ishbosheth. They had brought the head of Ishbosheth to David expecting some kind of reward. Instead, David condemned and ordered them executed [2 Samuel 4:10–12]: “…when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”
However, there was no discussion of punishment for Abner or Ishbosheth. Maybe because they both had died violently at the hands of fellow citizens. Their sudden and violent death could be interpreted as divine punishment. Also, it is possible their action was not discussed for punishment because no law was available then for adjudication of such actions. Most countries today have laws and processes for judging a person that circumvents the authority of the people to usurp rulership but nothing for a person that circumvents God’s authority. The fate that befell Abner, Ishbosheth, and Absalom (in Recognizing Usurper 1of2) appears to convey a message that God will judge such usurpers in his own way and at his schedule.
Additionally, there are human responsibilities in opposing a usurper. Our next bible study will discuss an example of attempted usurpation that illustrates human responsibility in lawful opposition against a usurper. However, as we discuss in the study, adherence to due process is essential in opposing a usurper.
Summary of What We Learned
The study examines a biblical example of usurpation through collusion between a witless accomplice and a powerful enabler that sought the power of government without submitting to due process. We conclude based on the study that a usurper has no respect for due process, no respect for the institution of government, and is loyal only to the extraneous interest that enables them capture state power by usurpation.
After the death of first king of Israel Saul, commander of his army Abner appointed Saul’s son Ishbosheth king, circumventing the people-established process for making a king. Subsequent events showed Abner enabled usurpation by Ishbosheth in order to launch war against David to win power for himself. When the arrangement began to collapse, he dropped Ishbosheth like hot potato and initiated negotiation to transfer rulership to David.
Abner and Ishbosheth met sudden and violent death through acts of other citizens. Although their sudden demise may indicate divine judgment over a usurper, a future study in this series will illustrate human responsibility in lawful opposition against a usurper.