7 Inspiring Stories of Forgiveness in the Bible

Forgiveness… it’s so important, and yet it’s not easy. How do we forgive when we can’t forget? These inspiring stories of forgiveness in the Bible give us a beautiful picture of the power of forgiveness, and how surprisingly simple it can be.

stories of forgiveness in the Bible

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Have you ever held a grudge against someone? Perhaps you realized how toxic that relationship could become, when you withheld forgiveness from the other person (or they from you).

And yet, it’s not easy to forgive! I’ve certainly been there… especially when the other person is unrepentant (still committing the same offenses), it’s hard to let go of that bitterness towards them.

So, what are some examples of forgiveness in the Bible that may help us overcome this difficulty? Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, there are so many great stories of people who put aside their hurts and their grudges, to forgive and reconcile with the people around them.

Something I’ve noticed about these stories of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Bible… many of them take place after the two parties have spent a long time apart. They had time to cool down, time to repent, and time to let go of grudges. Yes, sometimes it can be helpful to put some distance between you and the person who sinned against you, to allow healing and forgiveness to take place.

Another thing I’ve noticed about these stories of forgiveness in the Bible, is that the RELATIONSHIP is more important than the grudge.

I mean, think about it… we humans have sinned and angered God, right? But God considered His desire for relationship with us to be more important than anything else. SO important in fact, that He sent His only Son Jesus to die on a cross, so that our debt would be paid, and we could be forgiven. And that means, we enjoy renewed relationship with Him!

Shouldn’t it also be that way in our human-to-human relationships? Making peace, and reconnecting, is the ultimate goal… and you’ll definitely notice that in these powerful stories of forgiveness.

God's gift of forgiveness

7 Inspiring Stories of Forgiveness in the Bible

I hope you feel so inspired by these Bible stories about forgiveness, that you’ll take steps to forgive anyone in your life who may have sinned against you. As these folks demonstrate, forgiveness doesn’t have to be so hard… it can be quite simple and beautiful.

1) Esau and Jacob

What an unlikely story of forgiveness theirs is! In Genesis 27, Jacob pulled a fast one on his father, to steal his first-born brother Esau’s birthright. And oh boy, Esau was livid! So mad, in fact, that he was ready to kill Jacob!

Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
Genesis 27:41 (NIV)

So after fleeing to Harran and staying away for many years, you can imagine Jacob’s great surprise when Esau greeted him favorably, with no hint of animosity at all.

Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”
“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” [Jacob] said.
But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

Genesis 33:8-11 (NIV)

The Bible doesn’t really tell us why Esau chose to let his grudge against Jacob go, but one can imagine that perhaps Esau simply decided it wasn’t worth holding on to. Perhaps Esau realized that forgiveness was simply the better option.

It’s worth noting, that in the story of these two brothers, just because Esau forgave Jacob didn’t mean they became the best of friends—it just meant they had peace. Sometimes in life, we can forgive, but it may still be best to not have a close relationship with that person. Perhaps they’re still not trustworthy, or there is other irreparable damage done in that relationship, that means it’s better to simply forgive and let go.

2) Joseph and his brothers

Of all these stories of forgiveness in the Bible, Joseph’s is my favorite! As I mentioned also in these stories of patience in the Bible, I so admire Joseph for his level-headedness and integrity. Despite being sold into slavery by his own brothers (see Genesis 37), he never showed any signs of bitterness. Instead, throughout all the trials he endured, he remained gracious and full of godly wisdom and integrity (see Genesis 39-41).

So, it’s no surprise that when he finally reunited with his brothers after many years, Joseph generously forgave them…

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. ”
Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV)

Joseph’s story illustrates the importance of trusting God throughout all the ups and downs of life—so that even when wrongs are committed against us, we won’t lose our temper, hold a grudge, or otherwise allow bitterness to take hold. God has a plan, and He can take even the worst events and turn them around for good.

3) Job and his friends

Ever wondered what the Bible says about forgiveness and letting go? The example of how Job made atonement for his friends, without complaint or fuss, says a lot. God forgives us, and He also expects that we will forgive one another.

If you’ve read the entire book of Job, you know that Job’s friends were not very helpful to him in his time of need. In many cases, his friends were downright wrong! As such, Job could’ve easily been angry with his friends.

But nonetheless, when God instructed Job to pray for them, he did exactly that. No whining, no pointing fingers or assigning blame… we can assume (based on his actions) that Job simply wanted his friends to get right with God.

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.
After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.

Job 42:7-10 (NIV)

Recently, I had a friend like this too, who I could’ve been mad at forever. This person was wrong on so many levels, and I could so easily label them as a hopeless case and/or continue to hold a grudge. But instead, I’m choosing to simply pray for them—and hope they reconcile with God.

marriage wedding rings on Bible

4) Hosea and his unfaithful wife

What a strange story the book of Hosea is! But really, as far as stories of forgiveness in the Bible go, it’s pretty profound. God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute ON PURPOSE… simply to illustrate how God wanted to forgive and reconcile with the people of Israel who had gone astray.

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
Hosea 1:2-3 (NIV)

So of course, it wasn’t long before Hosea’s wife Gomer was unfaithful to him. But rather than abandon her, God instructed Hosea to take her back! And that’s exactly what Hosea did.

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

Hosea 1:2-3 (NIV)

He didn’t take her back because she deserved it… he bought her back because she was his wife, and he loved her. Just as God does for us! And, just as Hosea expected Gomer to be faithful to him going forward, God expects us to be faithful to Him. The phrase “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe” (from the traditional hymn “Jesus Paid It All”) comes to mind.

5) The father and his prodigal son

Of the many great stories of reconciliation in the Bible, none are quite so dramatic as the parable of the prodigal son. In case you aren’t already familiar, let me set the stage: The father’s youngest son had squandered his inheritance money on a wild and lavish lifestyle. He was gone from his father’s home for who knows how long, and his father was probably worried sick about him.

Once the son was completely broke, he decided to return to his father and beg forgiveness. Here’s what happened…

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:17-24 (NIV)

What a beautiful illustration of the power of forgiveness in the Bible! It goes to back to the observation I made at the beginning of this post… Forgiving is important, simply because that person and the relationship we have with them is more important than holding onto bitterness about the past. How overjoyed can we be, to welcome back a friend or family member who was once lost, but now is found?

forgiveness let it go Scrabble tiles

6) Jesus and the adulterous woman

These last two stories of forgiveness in the Bible are from Jesus Himself. And, unlike some of our other examples of forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t waste any time getting there. He sees the sinner, and makes the choice to forgive them, plain and simple.

Take the story of the adulterous woman… she was literally caught in the act of sin, and could’ve been stoned to death. So how beautiful is it, that instead of condemning her, Jesus forgave her?

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:3-11 (NIV)

Notice Jesus’ last words to the woman, to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” This reminds us of the true importance of forgiveness in the Bible: Being forgiven (or extending forgiveness to someone else) is not just a free pass to keep on sinning. Forgiveness is an invitation to a fresh start, a new opportunity to make things right—to do what’s good and right in God’s eyes.

7) Jesus and all those who crucified him

Nowhere else do we see the full power of forgiveness in the Bible, than in Jesus’ prayer for God to forgive the people who were responsible for instigating and carrying out His crucifixion.

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Luke 23:32-34 (NIV)

Our Heavenly Father knows our hearts, our motives, and our knowledge/awareness of our own sin… and in this case, Jesus’ words indicate that there may have been at least some that day who truly didn’t realize what they were doing.

May we also be generous to forgive those people in our lives who just don’t understand what they’re doing… and pray for God to open their eyes. But, even if they DO know full well what they’re doing—even if they’re unwilling to repent or change—it’s still important to forgive. Only God truly knows each person’s heart.

forgiveness flowers

The Power of Forgiveness in the Bible

All of these stories of forgiveness in the Bible bring to mind two important points, which I’d like to land on. God’s grace in forgiving us is something that should spur us on to gratitude and change…

Firstly, His grace should inspire us to forgive others! I am reminded of this often, when I encounter broken people around me, and sometimes those people do hurtful things. And I have to remember, God has forgiven me of so much, how can I not forgive others? In other words, how can we expect forgiveness ourselves when we don’t forgive others?

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

And secondly, God’s grace should move us to sin no more (just like Jesus encouraged the adulterous woman to do, in story #6 above).

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Romans 6:1-4 (NLT)

I hope these Bible stories about forgiveness have inspired you, to remember just how amazing God’s grace is, and how important it is to forgive others. Don’t let unforgiveness clog up the works of your relationship with God, or your relationships with people. I pray you’ll be able to LET IT GO, and move forward in a healthy, healing way!

4 thoughts on “7 Inspiring Stories of Forgiveness in the Bible”

  1. Linus Hubert Talmalim

    I’m blessed reading through. Forgiveness is one of the most important qualities that God is looking for in our lives as believers…

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