An Open Notebook

Penitential Psalms


Psalms appears to have been patterned after the Pentateuch, with five sections (Psalm 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150, each ending with a doxology. (Psalm 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48, 150:6).

This division corresponds fairly well to each of the first five books in the Bible. Psalm’s first book correlates to ‘Genesis,’ the beginning of David’s reign, psalms written by him, the emphasis being on Exodus in the second section, most of the songs deriving from Asaph (a Levite) in the third book, ‘wilderness wandering’ being the theme of the fourth, and a refocus on God’s word, like Deuteronomy (Psalm 119) present in the fifth.

Book 1 includes Psalms 1 to 41, which are considered Davidic. Book 2 includes Psalms 42 to 72, most of which are consid­ ered Davidic. Book 3 includes Psalms 73 to 89, most of which are attributed to Asaph. Book 4 includes Psalms 90 to 106, most of which are anonymous. Book 5 includes Psalms 107 to 150, of which one-third are Davidic and two-thirds are anonymous.

Interpreting Historical Books: Faith and Mission: January 1, 1995. Lamar E. Cooper, Sr.

However, readers have been organizing the Psalms in various ways since its common circulation. One of the ways readers have done this is by singling out the psalms of confession, penitential psalms.

In the old western prayerbooks, called Book of Hours, the scribes almost always included these particular songs as part of their select pericope (if you’re going to pick seven psalms, and parchment is precious, it might as well be these ones). Their titles are formed by simply reiterating the first line of the song.

Many times the titles rendered in Latin (that’s how classical composers often named their works); and, all of them express the utmost sorrow for personal sin. 

  • Psalm 6 – Lord Do Not Rebuke Me
  • Psalm 32 – Blessed Are Those Whose Sins are Forgiven
  • Psalm 38 – Lord Do Not Rebuke Me (2)
  • Psalm 51 – Have Mercy on Me O God
  • Psalm 102 – Lord Hear My Prayer
  • Psalm 130 – Out of the Depths I Cry
  • Psalm 143 – Lord, Hear My Prayer (2)

The other major group that should be well known is the Songs of Ascent. These ones are in linear order, simply Psalm 120-134, fifteen Psalms in all (one leading up to each day of Passover, which happens on the fifteenth).

Headings are common for the Psalms, the following list ascribed to 
Arend Remmers. Every list is a bit idiosyncratic, but to re-write headings would be a good exercise in journaling, to do on your own time. 

First Book (Psalm 1-41)

Psalm1The Just and the Unjust
Psalm2God’s King: the Messiah
Psalm3David’s Confidence in the Unchangeable God
Psalm4David’s Confidence in the Special Care of God
Psalm5Jehovah Hears the Cry of His People
Psalm6Plea for Mercy
Psalm7Prayer for Just Punishment of the Oppressor
Psalm8Reign of the Son of Man
Psalm9Praising God for Victory over the Enemies
Psalm10Plea for Salvation from the Wicked
Psalm11The Just in the midst of Wickedness
Psalm12The Confidence of the Just in the midst of Wickedness
Psalm14General Ruin of Mankind
Psalm15Marks of the True God-Fearing
Psalm16Christ as Perfect Man
Psalm17Prayer of the Just for Protection
Psalm18Praise of God
Psalm19Testimony of God in Creation
Psalm20Help from the Sanctuary
Psalm21Royal Song of Victory
Psalm22Christ’s Sufferings and Glory
Psalm23Christ, the Good Shepherd
Psalm24Christ, the King of Glory
Psalm25Plea for Salvation and Forgiveness
Psalm26Prayer of an Upright Man
Psalm27Desire for God’s Presence
Psalm28Cry in Distress
Psalm29God’s Might is Above Everything
Psalm30Praise for God’s Help
Psalm31Salvation from the Enemy
Psalm32Blessing of Forgiveness
Psalm33Worship of the Creator
Psalm34Experience of Those who Love God
Psalm35Cry for Help of the One in Distress
Psalm36Mind of the Wicked and the Goodness of God
Psalm37Confidence in God in the midst of a Wicked World
Psalm38Sufferings of the Believers for their Sins
Psalm39Every Man is Vanity
Psalm40Christ the Obedient Servant of God
Psalm41Confidence, Betrayal and Triumph

Second Book (Psalm 42-72)

Psalm42Desire of the Just for God
Psalm43Continuation of Psalm 42
Psalm44The People of God in Distress Cry for God
Psalm45Christ, King and Bridegroom
Psalm46God is Refuge and Strength
Psalm47God’s Reign as King
Psalm48The City of God
Psalm49Vanity of Earthly Riches
Psalm50The Just Judgment of God
Psalm51Confession of Sins and Repentance
Psalm52Condemnation of the Wicked
Psalm53Apostasy of the Wicked
Psalm54The Cry of the God-fearing for Salvation
Psalm56Confidence in the Faithfulness of God
Psalm57Confidence in the Salvation of God
Psalm58God Reveals Himself in Judgment
Psalm59Help for the Helpless
Psalm60Lamentation in Great Distress
Psalm61God is the True Refuge
Psalm62God Only Saves
Psalm63Thirst for God
Psalm64The Fate of the Enemies
Psalm65The Rich Blessing of God
Psalm66Acknowledgement of Just Intervention of God
Psalm67Outlook on the Blessing
Psalm68Liberation is Accomplished
Psalm69Lamentation of the Rejected Messiah
Psalm70Cry for Salvation
Psalm71Revival of People of God
Psalm72Announcement of Reign of Peace

Third Book (Psalm 73-89)

Psalm73An Enigma and its Solution
Psalm74Destruction of the Sanctuary
Psalm75God’s Coming into Action by Judgment
Psalm76Victorious Might of God
Psalm77Retrospect in Faith
Psalm78God’s Dealings in the History of Israel
Psalm79Prayer at Destruction of Jerusalem
Psalm80Prayer of the People in Their Distress
Psalm81The People Gather Fresh Hope
Psalm82God’s Judgment of the Judges
Psalm83Prayer at the Attack of the Enemy
Psalm84Taking Pleasure in the Sanctuary of Jehovah
Psalm85The People of God Enjoy the Promised Blessing
Psalm86The God-fearing Soul in Humble Prayer to God 
Psalm87Zion, the City of God
Psalm88A Prayer coming from Deepest Distress
Psalm89Covenant of God and His Faithfulness

Fourth Book (Psalm 90-106)

Psalm90The Eternal God and Mortal Men
Psalm91Exemplary Confidence of Man In God
Psalm92Song of Praise in the Sanctuary
Psalm93Jehovah Reigns in Majesty
Psalm94Cry for Justice and Vengeance
Psalm95Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Saviour of His People
Psalm96Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Judge of the Earth
Psalm97Appearing of Jehovah as King
Psalm98Praise of Jehovah, the King
Psalm99Jehovah’s Reign
Psalm100Worldwide Worship of Jehovah
Psalm101Principles of Jehovah’s Government
Psalm102God Revealed in Flesh
Psalm103Israel’s Praise over Ways of God
Psalm104Praise of Creator-God
Psalm105Historical Retrospective: God’s Faithfulness toward Israel
Psalm106Historical Retrospective: Israel’s Unfaithfulness toward God

Fifth Book (Psalm 107-150)

Psalm107Jehovah Saves Out of Every Difficulty
Psalm108The Coming Salvation
Psalm109Hostility to Christ
Psalm110Christ as Priest and King
Psalm111Praise of the Wonderful Works of Jehovah
Psalm112Jehovah’s Blessing for the God-fearing
Psalm113Praise of the Name of Jehovah
Psalm114The Might of the God of Jacob
Psalm115Honour Is Due to God Only
Psalm116Praise of God for His Help in Distress
Psalm117Praise of the Nations (This is the shortest Psalm.)
Psalm118Israel Recognises the True Cornerstone 
Psalm119Praise of the Word of God (the longest Psalm)
Psalm120Solemnity of the God-fearing
Psalm121God as Protector of Israel
Psalm122House and City of God
Psalm123Israel’s Fountain of Help in Tribulation
Psalm124Salvation in Distress
Psalm125Perfect Security
Psalm126Sowing in Tears and Reaping with Rejoicing
Psalm127Blessing over the House
Psalm128Blessing over the Family
Psalm129God’s Mighty Hand
Psalm130Repentance and Forgiveness
Psalm131Rest and Satisfaction
Psalm132Habitation of Jehovah in Zion
Psalm133Blessing of Brotherly Fellowship
Psalm134Worship in the Sanctuary
Psalm135Knowing and Worshiping the True God
Psalm136Praise of God’s Eternal Mercy
Psalm137Reminiscences of the Exile
Psalm138Praise of God for His Salvation
Psalm139The Heart-searching Presence of God
Psalm140Jehovah, the Fountain of Help for the Just
Psalm141Prayer of the Just amidst the Wicked
Psalm142Jehovah, the Refuge of the Lonely Ones
Psalm143Prayer out of Deepest Distress
Psalm144The True Fountain of Strength
Psalm145Praise of God in the Millennium
Psalm146Personal Praise of the Just
Psalm147Praise of the People of God
Psalm148Praise of the Whole Creation
Psalm149Praise by a New Song
Psalm150End: Summary of God’s Praises

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