There are many Bible stories about forgiveness, and all of them are wonderful. As we learn and understand Bible stories about forgiveness, we can better utilize the principles of forgiveness in our own lives. As humans, we will both need to give and receive forgiveness.
Bible Stories About Forgiveness from the Old Testament
God is a God of forgiveness, and He shows His forgiving nature through the actions of His people in both the Old and New testaments.
The Story of Joseph and His Brothers
Perhaps the most well-known Bible account of forgiveness is that of Joseph. Joseph was the eleventh son of his father, Jacob, and the first of his father’s favorite wife, Rachel. As such, he had a very special position in his father’s heart, which made his older brothers very jealous of him.
They plotted to kill him, but when they had the opportunity, they, instead, sold him to slave traders, getting for themselves a profit, and assuaging their conscience a bit, since they believed their brother Joseph would die anyway, but not at their hands.
Nevertheless, God had other plans for Joseph. In the process of time, Joseph rose from slavery to become ruler of Egypt. During a severe famine, Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to buy food, and without knowing it they came face to face with their estranged brother.
Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. Joseph did not immediately reveal himself to his brothers, nor forgive them.
He wanted to gauge their hearts’ condition, and at first, he was very stern with them. Finally, realizing they were repentant, he revealed himself, and forgave them. Here is the account from the Bible of their beautiful meeting:
And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (KJV)
For a further study of Joseph’s story as recorded in the Book of Genesis, and the amazing similarities of this Old Testament saint of God with Christ Jesus, click here.
David’s Sin with Bathsheba
King David, in a moment of carnal weakness and foolish thinking, thought that having an affair would be a good thing. So he took the wife of one of his generals, Bathsheba, for a night of passion.
Later, when he found out that he had fathered a child with her, he tried to cover up his sin. Failing that, he arranged for her husband to be killed while fighting in battle. When his sin was revealed by Nathan, the prophet of God, David repented, asking for God’s forgiveness.
This is part of the conversation between Nathan and David:
2 Samuel 12:13
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
Later, David poured out his heart, his repentance, and his grief over his sin, by writing Psalm 51. Although David’s act was initially private, God, Who sees all, publicly revealed David’s sin, his cry of repentance, and God’s forgiveness.
Here is part of the Psalm David wrote begging for God’s forgiveness.
<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.>>
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.(KJV)
To learn more about the life, adventures, and psalms of David arranged in a 30-day Bible study devotional format, click here.
Hosea and Gomer
Hosea was a prophet of God and Gomer was a prostitute. God commanded Hosea to marry Gomer, and used the marriage of Hosea and Gomer to illustrate His forgiveness toward the nation of Isarel, His chosen people, who repeatedly rejected Him.
Instead of worshipping Him, they gave their worship, faith, and religious practices to idols.
The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD. So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son.(KJV)
Just because Gomer was married did not mean that she repented of her sinful ways. Rather, she continued her immoral practices. But eventually, she realized her sin, and desired to return to her husband, Hosea.
And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.(KJV)
In a great object lesson that showed the love of God to the unfaithful nation of Israel, Hosea both forgave her and paid money to buy her back to him.
Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley: And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee.(KJV)
Bible Stories About Forgiveness from the New Testament
There are many Bible verses and Bible stories about forgiveness in the New Testament.
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Jesus, in the context of His teaching about forgiveness, told the parable of the unforgiving servant.
In this parable, the Lord Jesus Christ told of a king who realized that one of his servants owed him a large sum of money. When the servant said he could not pay the debt, the king commanded that both the servant and his family should be sold to satisfy the debt. When the servant pleaded with him to have mercy, the king graciously forgave him all that he owed.
But that same man was owed a very small sun of money by a fellow servant, and he threatened the servant who owed him. When that man pleaded for mercy, he had him put into prison. When the king found out about what his servant did, the king punished him.
This story shows the importance of forgiveness from one human being to another. Just as God, our heavenly Father, forgives us when we ask for His forgiveness, we, too, are we to forgive others graciously every time they ask for our forgiveness, even to the sum of seventy times seven! Read the entire story here in Matthew 18:21-35.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son may be the most well-known of all Bible stories of forgiveness. The story that Jesus told was about a man with two sons.
The younger son wanted his share of the inheritance from his father immediately, and the father gave him what he wanted. With his newfound wealth, the young man left home, traveled to a faraway land, and quickly spent his inheritance money on all types of wild and reckless living.
After all of his money was gone, he had nothing for food. So he went and hired himself out to feed pigs. He was so hungry, the food the pigs were eating was starting to look good to him.
Then, he remembered that back home his father’s hired servants fared much better than he, so he decided to humble himself, return to his father’s house, and ask his father to hire him.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. (KJV)
The father joyfully welcomed his wayward son home with open arms, forgiveness, and a party to celebrate the homecoming of his lost son.
The sobering truth of this story about forgiveness is that, although the loving father forgave his son, the son never again had the same money to squander. He was welcomed home, but then he had a position, job, and pay, rather than inheritance, just like all of his father’s employees.
The Parable of the Pharisee and Publican
In Luke 18:10, Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and Publican. A Pharisee was a religious person who believed himself to be pure before God. The Pharisee in this parable trusted in his own good works to both make and keep him right with God.
A publican was a tax collector for the Romans and were known to be dishonest in their dealings. In this parable, the Pharisee prayed “with himself,” as he recounted, supposedly to God, all of the good things that he did. This was in stark contrast to the publican who felt a load of sin and guilt upon him.
While the Pharisee stood and praised himself, Jesus described the posture and words of the publican. “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13 (KJV).
Unlike the self-righteous Pharisee, the publican knew he had sinned against a holy God, and all he desired was God’s mercy; he craved God’s forgiveness.
Jesus finished the parable by telling the outcome of each.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (KJV).
The repentant publican was forgiven by God because he knew that he was a sinner and he asked for God’s mercy.
While these two men were part of a parable, its truth does not change. When we humbly come to God asking for His mercy, He graciously forgives us.
The Story of Onesimus
Another story from the Bible about forgiveness comes from the Apostle Paul. The Book of Philemon contains just a single chapter. It is a letter written to Paul’s friend, Philemon, on behalf of Philemon’s servant, Onesimus.
The context was that Onesimus left his master, and possibly stole from him. Repentant, Onesimus, then sought for Paul, who was in prison for spreading the Gospel of God’s grace. After Philemon found Paul, he also found God’s love for him, too. Onesimus then wanted to do what was right by his master.
Paul then wrote this wonderful letter to Philemon, describing what had occurred, and asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
The Greatest Example of Forgiveness Found in the Bible
While all of the Bible stories about forgiveness are inspiring, the greatest example of forgiveness is that of God, and His actions toward sinful, human beings. All other stories, whether recorded in the Bible, from history, or even in our own lives, are reflections of God’s great love.
Forgiveness of our sins by a holy God through the sacrificial death of His Son Christ Jesus is the greatest story of forgiveness of all time. All human beings are born with a sin debt, and so they cannot enter the presence of a holy God. But for reasons known only to Him, God wants to have the humans He created to live with Him.
So He provided a way, a gift of sinless, eternal blood, which takes away sin. This was through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
But God commendeth [shows] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (KJV)
Romans 10:9-10 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (KJV)
When we came to Christ, we realized that we are a sinner in dire need of God’s salvation. We then asked Him to come into our heart, forgive us of our sins, and save us from hell. He did.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was to pay the sin debt that all people owe. Jesus’ sacrificial gift, and offer of eternal life, is the greatest example of forgiveness the world has even known. All other stories of forgiveness pale in the light of this fact.
While Christ Jesus offers this great gift of love to every human being, not all will receive His gift. Therefore, Jesus only grants forgiveness of sins, and the resulting eternal life with Him in heaven, to those who ask for it.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (KJV)
This wonderful forgiveness of sins by God Himself to sinful, undeserving human beings, is the most powerful and awe inspiring of all Bible stories about forgiveness.
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