The Psalms of Repentence



When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them,
They that are whole have no need of the
physician, but they that are sick: I came
not to call the righteous, but sinners to
repentance. (Mark 2:17)



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The book of Psalms consists of 150 collections of poems, hymns, and songs originally used in worship in ancient Israel. Throughout history these psalms have been classified into various categories, although not all agree on the categories, or which Psalms go into which categories. Some Psalms include verses that fit into two or more categories. Some of these categories include:

  • Psalms of Praise, (Psalms 18, 19,89, 130, 147, 148 150)
  • Psalms of Repentence, (Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; and 143)
  • Psalms of Lament, (Psalms 9, 10, 12, 22, 42, 86, 130, )
  • Psalms of Ascent, (Psalms 120-134)
  • Psalms of Wisdom, (Psalms 1, 37, and 49)
  • Psalms of Thanksgiving, individually (such as Psalms 30, 32, and 34) and as a community (such as Psalms 67, 100, and 124);
  • Psalms of Israel (Psalms 78, 105, and 106)
  • Psalms of Forgiveness (Psalms 32,40, 103, 25, 51, 130)
  • Psalms of Imprecation (Psalms 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140)


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During this Lenten season we will study the seven Psalms of Repentence: Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; and 143. In each of these, the writer expresses deep sorrow over sin and spiritual failure; He then confesses his sin and acknowledges his need for Godís favor and forgiveness.

These psalms were used in the early Christian church for the confession of sin and repentance as far back as the times of Origen (AD 184ó253) and Augustine (AD 354ó430). Medieval Pope Innocent III (AD 1161ó1216) ordered that they be recited during Lent and Holy Week. The Roman Breviary, an ancient service book of the priests of the Roman Catholic Church, provided a special place for these psalms. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England designates these psalms as appropriate for use on Ash Wednesday and in other Lenten prayer services.

Repentance of oneís sins before a holy God is one of the major themes of Scripture, and these penitential psalms are perfect examples of the value of repentance and a firm reliance on the great mercies of God for all grace and comfort. These psalms are fitting prayers for any repentant sinner.


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The first of the penitential psalms is Psalm 6. This Psalm was used in the Jewish daily liturgy as a prayer of penitence, and is still used in the Churchís liturgy today. In it the author, David, has been very ill, and is in deep distress, weary in both body and spirit. He desperately appeals to God for mercy and relief from punishment. Trusting in Godís gracious reply, David closes his prayer knowing God will hear and help him.

Psalm 6

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.



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In Psalm 32, God does indeed grant Davidís prayer. The author makes it clear that we must first acknowledge our sin before we come to God for forgiveness. We have to realize that yes, we have fallen short, we've done wrong, we've sinned agained God. It is only when we recognize our faults and seek God's forgiveness, that we can experience reconcialiation and healing, and freely receive His blessings. Our guilt and shame are washed away, and we find relief and experience the joy of being made right with God.

Psalm 32


Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: my strength is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto you in a time when you may be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come near unto him. You are my hiding place; you shall preserve me from trouble; you shall surround me about with songs of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with my eye. Be you not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, else they come not near unto you. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, you righteous: and shout for joy, all you that are upright in heart.

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Psalm 38 depicts the effects of sin and the pain a believer feels under God's conviction. It's possible this passage was composed in response to David's sin with Bathsheba, as it contains many of the same references. Later, in Psalm 51, David expresses his intense remorse for this episode; here, however, he described the anguish he feels due to God's corrective rebuke.

Psalms 38

O LORD, rebuke me not in your wrath: neither chasten me in your hot displeasure. For your arrows stick fast in me, and your hand presses me down. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities are gone over my head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and utterly broken: I have groaned by reason of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before you; and my groaning is not hid from you. My heart pants, my strength fails me: as for the light of my eyes, it also is gone from me. My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my plague; and mykinsmen stand afar off. They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and plan deceit all the day long. But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that opens not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that hears not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs. For in you, O LORD, do I hope: you will hear, O Lord my God. For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slips, they magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are my adversaries; because I follow the thing that is good. Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

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Psalm 51 has been called the Sinnerís Guide, and is probably the most familiar penitential psalm. In it King Davidís prays and repents when the prophet Nathan confronts him with his sins (2 Samuel 12). After committing adultery with Bathsheba and covering up his transgression by having her husband, Uriah, killed, Davidís moment of self-awareness causes him to acknowledge his sin and guilt and plead for Godís mercy.

David begins by calling out for mercy. David knows he doesn't deserve forgiveness, so he calls on God's character of mercy to remove his sins. He knows that God's revealed character is one of love and compassion. From the time of Moses, God has revealed himself as "the compassionate and gracious God," who forgives sin (Exodus 34:6). David calls upon the God based on his known merciful character.Then, expressing his confidence in Godís faithfulness, David expresses his belief that his plea will be heard and answered.

Besides serving as a personal prayer of confession, contrition, and restoration, Psalm 51 also gives voice to the nation of Israel in its plea for repentance and salvation.

Psalm 51

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight: that you might be justified when you speak, and be blameless when you judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part you shall make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with a free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors your ways; and sinners shall be converted unto you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall show forth your praise. For you desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good in your good pleasure unto Zion: build you the walls of Jerusalem. Then shall you be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon your altar.

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Psalm 102 is a prayer of one so afflicted he is faint from the depths of his affliction. He pours out his complaint before the Lord, understanding that even when life seems hopeless, the faithful believer knows that God has not abandoned him. The psalmist pours out the distress in his heart, but still expresses confidence that God will show his mercy.

Psalm 102
Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto you. Hide not your face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline your ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as a hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. Because of the voice of my groaning my bones cling to my skin. I am like a vulture of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. My enemies reproach me all the day; and they that rail against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, Because of your indignation and your wrath: for you have lifted me up, and cast me down. My days are like a shadow that declines; and I am withered like grass. But you, O LORD, shall endure forever; and your remembrance unto all generations. You shall arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof. So the nations shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth your glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people who shall be created shall praise the LORD. For he has looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD. He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: your years are throughout all generations. Of old have you laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of your hands. They shall perish, but you shall endure: yea, all of them shall grow old like a garment; as a vesture shall you change them, and they shall be changed: But you are the same, and your years shall have no end. The children of your servants shall continue, and their descendants shall be established before you.



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In Psalm 130, we see that we are to call out earnestly to God, from the depths of our suffering, sorrow and the overwhelming sense of our sinfulness. The effect of distress, whether outward or inward, is to produce sincere and earnest prayer to God. We are assured that such earnest and sincere prayer will always be heard and answered, for, as Second Corinthians†7:10 assures us: "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation...."

Psalm 130

Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is abundant redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

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In this Psalm the author doesn't specificaly name the nature of his affliction, and never specifically repents of sin. Instead, he expresses awareness of his sinfulness and his need for Godís grace. The closing verses suggest that this penitential psalm is not only an individual confession but a national prayer of repentance for all of Israel.

Psalm 130


Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is abundant redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.



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The last of the seven penitential psalms is Psalm 143. It contains a universal acknowledgment of guilt: ďDonít put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before youĒ (Psalm 143:2, NLT). But this is the only reference to sin and forgiveness in the psalm.

Psalm 143


Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in your faithfulness answer me, and in your righteousness. And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight shall no man living be justified. For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has smitten my life down to the ground; he has made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all your works; I ponder on the work of your hands. I stretch forth my hands unto you: my soul thirsts after you, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit fails: hide not your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear your lovingkindness in the morning; for in you do I trust: cause me to know the way in which I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto you. Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies: I flee unto you to hide me. Teach me to do your will; for you are my God: your Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. Revive me, O LORD, for your name's sake: for your righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble. And in your mercy cut off my enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.












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