What does forgiveness look like in the Bible? We have all heard different points of view from different ministers. They seem to have a set pattern on the rules of forgiveness. They have tests for when to forgive, who to forgive, how to forgive, what to forgive, why we forgive, where we forgive.

After looking at all this research and then looking at the Bible, the surprise is that there is no set pattern. There are many different individual responses, actions, resolutions, and conclusions for every person. God tests us and with these tests we often experience mistreatment from others. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people so forgiveness is always going to be a part of our life. There will never be a set pattern because we are all uniquely different and each situation creates its own individual ending.  

After we examine the Bible and analyze the many varied encounters concerning forgiveness, the truth about forgiveness is that God’s commands must be heeded. God knows everything and He has everything under control. He always knows what He is doing. The person or persons involved with manipulating circumstances in your life in order to harm you can only do this if God allows these events to take place.

However, this does not eliminate our need to pray because God does move through our prayers. Even though God allows events to take place, we must always pray for His perfect will and bring our petitions before His throne so He has the final say for everything in our lives.

The story of Joseph is the first time “forgive” is mentioned in the Bible. This was truly surprising to me. However, I have always been impressed with Joseph. Of all the people in the Bible, I felt he was treated harshly when it came to being tested by God. It never says that Joseph committed any sin in which he deserved punishment.

We all remember the story of Job. Job was a righteous man (Ez. 14:14, 20). God also said this about Job “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8). Job suffered physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually but I think what made Joseph’s test seem severe in my eyes was that he was accused of something that he did not do and then he was thrown in prison for it. Job was accused of being a sinner by his friends but he was never punished by them or thrown in prison for it. However, Job did feel that God was punishing him which is truly one of the worst types of suffering. It never says that Joseph felt God was punishing him but he must have been devastated with the calamities which befell him. The most important lesson in this whole account is Joseph knew that God allowed this situation and this was all part of His perfect plan.

 Joseph lost his family. His mother died in childbirth (Gen 35:17-19) after his younger brother was born. The only family member who loved him was his father (Gen. 37:3). His brothers hated him because of their father not for anything that he did. Although after he told them his dream, they hated him even more (Gen 37:4). His brothers could not hold peaceful conversation with Joseph.

They did not rejoice with their brother when God had given him a dream. No one, not even his father appreciated the dream that God had given him. Joseph felt blessed and he truly loved God. He was kidnapped and taken away from his father (Gen 37:23-24). His brothers sold him as a slave (Gen. 37:26-27). As a slave, he was accused of rape which was an untruth and thrown in prison (Gen 39:7-20).

What can you learn from Joseph? The Bible never tells us what Joseph went through but you cannot help but notice his truly loving heart toward God. It never says that Joseph forgave his brothers. The mention of the word forgive came from his brothers mouth after the death of Jacob their father.  They did not ask for forgiveness. They said that there father said that Joseph should forgive them for what they had done to him.

They assumed that Joseph needed to forgive them. They were telling Joseph what he needed to do. He needed to forgive. Of course you must remember that Joseph was the boss over all of them. He was second in command in Egypt. The amazing part of this story is that the perpetrators were telling the victim that he needed to forgive. Of course the reason they said those things were because they were afraid for themselves. They assumed the only reason Joseph took care of them was because of their father because the only reason they hated Joseph in the first place was because of their father.

The real reality is Joseph never sunk to their level. Joseph was never like them. Joseph’s brothers assumed that Joseph was like them but as we read the account of Joseph’s life that is completely not true. They needed Joseph to forgive them so they would not be mistreated. Joseph had the power and authority to kill them all without any reason or permission. However, Joseph did not need to forgive them because he knew that God allowed these events to take place in his life in order to complete God’s perfect will.

The one thing that stands out the most about this introduction to forgiveness is that you don’t need to forgive someone if you don’t hold them responsible. Joseph never forgave his brothers because he did not hold them responsible. He looked solely to God and knew that God allowed this situation for a reason. Joseph was not in denial. He knew his brothers had planned evil against him but he knew God allowed the situation to happen for His perfect will in order to save many lives.


Genesis 50: 15-21

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.”

16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying,

17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?

20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.


Response: Joseph’s response was that he believed that “God meant it for good”. He did not need to forgive because he knew God had everything under His control.

Action: He loved his brothers and supplied their needs during and after the famine and even after their father’s death. He never attempted to subject revenge on his brothers for the evil they had perpetrated against him.

Resolution: His resolutions was assisting his brothers even after his father’s death, comforting them, and speaking kindly. Joseph gave them physical assistance, emotional support, and soothing verbal compassion.  

Conclusion:  Sometimes the victim does not need to forgive the perpetrator...especially if the victim realizes the real truth which is, God is always in control.


Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

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