וישלח אבימלך מלך גרר ויקח את שרה אחר שנלקחה שרה במצרים אצל פרעה ונעשה לו נס גדול שהוצרך לו להחזירה לו בעל כרחו ע"י נגעים גדולים, מה היה חוזר עתה בגרר ואומר לכל אחותי היא, וכי היה סומך על הנס בכל פעם ופעם, ושמא אין עושין לו נס. וישלח אבימלך מלך גרר ויקח את שרה, “Avimelech the King of Geror sent (servants) and he abducted Sarah.” Seeing that Sarah had once before been abducted by Pharaoh in Egypt and G’d had performed great miracles punishing Pharaoh by means of afflictions so that he had returned her to Avraham, why did Avraham repeat the same mistake in Gerar which he had committed once before and which had resulted in Sarah’s almost being raped? Why did he again describe Sarah as his sister? Was he really entitled to assume that G’d would once again perform a miracle for him to extricate him from a situation which he had brought about by his own machinations?
וכתב רבינו חננאל ז"ל כי עכשיו כשבא בגרר גרשה, לפי שהיה ירא שמא יהרגוהו אם היה אומר שהיא אשתו, ואעפ"כ לא הניחו ה' ית' שיפרד ממנה ולא הניח את הצדיקת אצל הרשע, כי לא ינוח שבט הרשע על גורל הצדיקים, וגרושין הללו היה מפני הפחד, וזה שאמר הש"י והיא בעולת בעל, שלא גרשה רק מפני הפחד כי אנוס הוא, ונמצא שאין הגרושין גרושין גמורין, וזהו שאמר אבימלך הגוי גם צדיק תהרוג. כלומר הגוי שאין לו זה הדין אלא אפי' אנוס גרושיו גרושין, ועוד שהוא צדיק שלא קרב אליה תהרוג, ולא עוד אלא שהוא אמר לי אחותי היא והיא גם היא אמרה פעם אחר פעם אחי הוא, בתם לבבי לקחתיה ובנקין כפי שעדיין לא קרבתי אליה.
Rabbeinu Chananel wrote that this time Avraham divorced Sarah when he came to Geror because he was afraid that the local people might kill him if he were to admit that Sarah was his wife. Nonetheless, G’d did not allow her to be separated from Avraham. Neither did He allow the righteous woman Sarah to remain with the wicked Avimelech as it is not G’d’s way to “allow the scepter of the wicked to rest upon the land allotted to the righteous” (Psalms, 125,3). The divorce was considered invalid as it had been prompted only by Avraham fearing for his life. This is what the Torah meant when G’d described Sarah as בעולת בעל, a married woman,” in the dream in which He appeared to Avimelech. He made it plain to Avimelech that the technical status of Sarah as a divorced woman was caused only by circumstances over which Avraham had not had any control at the time.
When Avimelech challenged G’d by saying: “will You kill people although they are innocent?” He referred to the status of Sarah as a divorced woman, claiming that he could not have known that her divorce was legally invalid. By using the expression הגוי, he implied that amongst the Gentiles there is no distinction between divorces which result from the free will of the husband and others which were the result of duress. Furthermore, he claimed that he was totally righteous not having violated her. So why would G’d threaten to kill him? Another factor in his favour was that her brother Avraham had personally told him that Sarah was his sister, something which Sarah herself had confirmed time after time so that he could claim he had taken her not only in innocence but that even his hands were clean seeing he had not forced his attentions upon her!