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Forgiveness In the Bible

In recent times, it seems like forgiveness is in short supply- for ourselves and for others.

Sometimes, we feel that we are unforgivable. We feel that our sins are too great and too much for the Lord to forgive us. The feelings of guilt and shame, when faced with the result of our own sins, can make us think that we are unworthy of the Lord’s consideration. Some hide away their sins and pretend they do not exist, because they believe their sins are completely unforgivable. Others see their sins and attempt to make up for them, but refuse to ask for or accept forgiveness because they believe they are unworthy of it. They believe that not being forgiven makes them a better person, but it weighs heavy on their hearts.

Other times, we feel that we cannot forgive others. We feel no forgiveness in our heart because a person has annoyed, angered, or upset us. The person may have slighted, betrayed, and used us or made us feel less than human. They may have pushed us too far, crossed a line, and made us commit a sin that we never would have committed without their influence. In those instances, we often cannot find it in ourselves to forgive them when they apologize. We hold back forgiveness even though, as Christians, we are expected to ‘turn the other cheek’ and forgive the person who harmed us.

There are many stories and verses in the bible about forgiveness. There are also many figures in the bible that forgave, such as Joseph to his brothers and Jesus to the woman caught in adultery. What does the bible say of unforgivable characters and sins, struggles to forgive, or Forgiveness itself?


Forgiving yourself: The story of David

2 Samuel 11; 12; Psalm 51

The story of David is about adultery, murder, and regret. One night, David saw a beautiful woman bathing. She was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was away in battle. Despite Bathsheba being married, David slept with her, and she inevitably conceived. David called for Uriah back to Jerusalem to send him home. Against orders, Uriah did not go home or sleep with his wife- he refused, as his army was still on the battlefield. Then, David invited Uriah for dinner, made him drunk, and sent him home. Again, Uriah did not go home but instead slept among the servants. With his plan failing, David wrote a letter to Joab, his commander, and sent it alongside Uriah back to the battlefield. In it, he wrote, "Put Uriah out in front in the fiercest part of the battle, then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” In the end, Uriah died on the front-lines of the battle, leaving Bathsheba to mourn and David to make her his wife. His actions displeased the Lord.

The Lord sent Nathan, a court prophet, to David. Nathan told him a tale where a rich man, who had flocks of sheep and cattle, had taken the lamb of a poor man for a visitor's meal. After hearing it, David angrily said that the rich man must die. “He must pay for the lamb four times over because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Nathan declared that David was the rich man, having taken the wife of Uriah and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. David, knowing he was exposed, confessed to him. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” Nathan replied, “But by doing this, you have shown contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” After Nathan left, the son became ill. For six days, David begged, grieved, and wept. On the seventh day, the child died, and David stopped grieving and accepted the death.

Psalms 51 is a psalm written by David after committing adultery with Bathsheba, begging for forgiveness. The first verse says, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.” David was aware of his sin. He knew that his fornication with Uriah’s wife was not an act he should have done. Verse 10 states ”Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me.” David asks for a clean slate, a new character and spirit that does not fall into temptation. David was so desperate to be free of his sin that he did not think of the repercussions of his actions. His desperation led him to end Uriah, meet Nathan, and to the cleansing and forgiveness of his sin.

Key Concepts of Forgiveness from David

1. Forgiveness requires acknowledgement of the problem

David tried to hide his act of fornication by sending Uriah to his death. This hid his terrible act from the public, but not God. If God had not sent Nathan to confront David, then David would have continued to live silently with his sin. He would have continued pretending it did not happen and thus lived with it weighing down on him as shown in Psalms 51.

2. Forgiveness does not require both sides

David’s act killed the person who could have given him forgiveness. Additionally, Uriah was unaware of his wife’s conceivement. Despite this, David confessed his sinful act and was forgiven for it by God. Forgiveness does not require the wrongdoer to ask for forgiveness from the wronged person, but both parties benefit when they do. His confession allowed him to be forgiven by not only God but also himself.


Forgiving Others: The Story of Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25:19-34; 27:1-41; 33:1-16

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of familial traditions, trickery, and grudges. Esau and Jacob are twin brothers, the two sons of Isaac. Esau became a skillful hunter, while Jacob helped at home. As Jacob was cooking dinner, Esau came back from a hunt. He was hungry, and begged Jacob for some food. Jacob asked for Esau’s birthright, and as Esau believed he was starving to death, he agreed and sold his birthright for bread and a bowl of stew.

When Isaac was old and blind, he called for his son Esau. Esau was to hunt and prepare a meal to receive his blessing before he died. Jacob’s mother had listened to their conversation, and as Esau left, she told Jacob to take two goats from their flock and bring it to her, so she could make a meal for him to present to his father. They dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes and covered his skin in goatskin to trick Isaac. Succeeding, he gave Jacob the blessing meant for Esau. When Esau returned from hunting, he prepared a meal for his father and eagerly presented it. Isaac was upset that he had been tricked but could not undo his blessing on Jacob. Esau begged for his father’s blessing, but Isaac told him he was destined to serve his brother. Verse 41 clearly states that Esau held a grudge against Jacob for stealing his birthright and blessing. In a fit of anger, Esau swore to kill him.

Years later, after escaping, Jacob sees Esau in the distance coming towards him with four hundred men. Jacob was travelling with his family, and upon seeing his brother, he separated his children and servants between his wives. Jacob sent his flocks towards Esau and went ahead of his family. However, instead of killing him just as he swore he would, Esau ran up to Jacob and hugged him. Jacob offered his flock and herds to appease and find favour in his brother, and Esau accepted after some persuading. In return for the birthright and blessing that Jacob received, he gave the flocks the lord blessed him with to Esau in return. They part ways on good terms, grudges erased, and brotherhood restored.

Key Concepts of Forgiveness from Jacob and Esau

1. Forgiveness sometimes requires risk and sacrifice

Jacob knew his brother wanted to kill him, and was accepting of his fate. He sent flocks ahead of him to appease his brother then went ahead of his family, not knowing whether his brother was truly appeased or not. He sacrificed his flock and risked his life, and was met with forgiveness from the man who swore to kill him.

2. Forgiveness requires effort

Both Jacob and Esau made efforts in reconciling with each other. While Jacob made the first effort through material goods and livestock, Esau made effort through closing the final distance between them. Through each other’s efforts, they restored their familial bond.


Forgiveness In The Bible

There are many verses in the bible speaking about forgiveness. Here are a few with some lessons we can learn from them.

Forgiveness of Self

Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Daniel 9:9 (KJV)

To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;

Isaiah 55:7 (KJV)

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Forgiveness of Others

Luke 6:37 (NIV)

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Colossians 3:13 (KJV)

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Matthew 6:14-15 (KJV)

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Luke 17:3-4 (NIV)

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Forgiveness is letting go of sin, whether that may be our own sin or someone else’s. Though the consequences of sin still exist, no one is wholly irredeemable. Our sins will harm us the longer we carry them, so we must “confess our sins to each other, and pray for each other so that we may be healed” (James 5:16). If someone sins against us, we should forgive them “not only up to seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). The overall message of Christ is love, and the ability to forgive is an essential Christian trait. After all, we are “to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave us” (Ephesians 4:32).

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Sophia Toboso