The Traveler's Psalm

Bible Book: Psalms  121 : 1-8
Subject: New Year

Dr. Clarence H. Benson (1879-1954) Professor of Christian Education at Moody Bible Institute and associate editor of Moody Monthly magazine, writes, “In some homes this Scripture is read when a member of the family is about to go on a journey. It is not so much a prayer as a meditation upon God's providence.”[1]

Dr. William Garden Blaikie (1820-1899), shares the following in The Personal Life of David Livingstone, "'I remember my father and him,' writes his sister, 'talking over the prospects of Christian missions. They agreed that the time would come when rich and great men would think it an honour to support whole stations of missionaries, instead of spending their money on hounds and horses. On the morning of 17th November [1840], we got up at five o'clock. My mother made coffee. David read the 121st and the 135th Psalms, and prayed. My father and he walked to Glasgow to catch the Liverpool steamer.' On the Broomielaw, father and son looked for the last time on earth on each other's faces. The old man walked back slowly to Blantyre, with a lonely heart no doubt, yet praising God. David's face was now set in earnest toward the Dark Continent."[2]

J. S. Watson, a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and the successor to Admiral Dewey, who commanded the U.S. fleet in the Philippines during the Spanish American War, wrote, "My favorite chapter is the Traveller's Psalm, Psalm 121. The seventh and eighth verses mean more to me than any other."

William Edwards was a British magistrate caught in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. His escape after hiding out for months is a thrilling story. He wrote at one point, "Nothing new has been settled about our plans, and we are much harassed. Heavy guns were firing at Turruckabad today. We know not for what cause, but they reminded us painfully of our fearful proximity to that place where so many are thirsting for our lives. Amidst it all, the psalms are most consoling and wonderfully suited to our cause, especially the 121st: 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh our help' [kjv]."[3]

Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), explains, “Some call this the soldier's psalm, and think it was penned in the camp, when David was hazarding his life in the high places of the field, and thus trusted God to cover his head in the day of battle. Others call it the traveller's psalm (for there is nothing in it of military dangers) and think David penned it when he was going abroad, and designed it pro vehiculo-for the carriage, for a good man's convoy and companion in a journey or voyage. But we need not thus appropriate it; wherever we are, at home or abroad, we are exposed to danger more than we are aware of; and this psalm directs and encourages us to repose ourselves and our confidence in God, and by faith to put ourselves under his protection and commit ourselves to his care, which we must do, with an entire resignation and satisfaction, in singing this psalm. I. David here assures himself of help from God (v. 1, 2). II. He assures others of it (v. 3-8).”[4]

From the Pulpit Commentary we read, “In whatever special circumstances, or for whatever particular occasion, this psalm may have been written, it is certain that it is admirably suited to suggest New Year's thoughts to our minds.”[5]

Allow me to share five things about Almighty God from this psalm.

I. His Presence

From Psalm 121:1-2 we read, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”

William MacDonald (1917-2007) explains, “The temple in Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God on earth. The glory cloud in the Holy of Holies signifies the Lord’s presence among His people. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a mountain and is surrounded by mountains. So when a Jew in other parts of Israel needed divine help, he looked toward the hills. To him it was the same as looking to the Lord.”[6]

You get the sense of this from 1 Kings 8:22-30, where we read, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: ‘Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day. Therefore, Lord God of Israel, now keep what You promised Your servant David my father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk before Me as you have walked before Me.’ And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father. ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.’”

Remember David’s desire expressed in Psalm 23:6b, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.” He also declares in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”

Jeremiah warns about a pagan practice in Jeremiah 3:23, “Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, / And from the multitude of mountains; / Truly, in the Lord our God / Is the salvation of Israel.”

Rev. Matthew Henry comments, “DAVID HERE ASSURES HIMSELF OF HELP FROM GOD (121:1, 2) This psalm teaches us,

I. To stay ourselves upon God as a God of power and a God all-sufficient for us. David did so and found the benefit of it.

1. We must not rely upon creatures, upon men and means, instruments and second causes, nor make flesh our arm: ‘Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills?’-so some read it. ‘Does my help come thence? Shall I depend upon the powers of the earth, upon the strength of the hills, upon princes and great men, who, like hills, fill the earth, and hold up their heads towards heaven? No; in vain is salvation hoped for from hills and mountains, Jeremiah 3:23. I never expect help to come from them; my confidence is in God only.’ We must lift up our eyes above the hills (so some read it); we must look beyond instruments to God, who makes them that to us which they are.

2. We must see all our help laid up in God, in his power and goodness, his providence and grace; and from him we must expect it to come: ‘My help comes from the Lord; the help I desire is what he sends, and from him I expect it in his own way and time. If he do not help, no creature can help; if he do, no creature can hinder, can hurt.’

3. We must fetch in help from God, by faith in his promises, and a due regard to all his institutions: ‘I will lift up my eyes to the hills’ (probably he meant the hills on which the temple was built, Mount Moriah, and the holy hill of Zion, where the ark of the covenant, the oracle, and the altars were); ‘I will have an eye to the special presence of God in his church, and with his people (his presence by promise) and not only to his common presence.’ When he was at a distance he would look towards the sanctuary (Psa. 28:2; Psa. 42:6); thence comes our help, from the word and prayer, from the secret of his tabernacle. My help cometh from the Lord (so the word is, v. 2), from before the Lord, or from the sight and presence of the Lord. ‘This (says Dr. Hammond) may refer to Christ incarnate, with whose humanity the Deity being inseparably united, God is always present with him, and, through him, with us, for whom, sitting at God's right hand, he constantly maketh intercession.’ Christ is called the angel of his presence, that saved his people, Isaiah 63:9.

4. We must encourage our confidence in God with this that he made heaven and earth, and he who did that can do any thing. He made the world out of nothing, himself alone, by a word's speaking, in a little time, and all very good, very excellent and beautiful; and therefore, how great soever our straits and difficulties are, he has power sufficient for our succour and relief. He that made heaven and earth is sovereign Lord of all the hosts of both, and can make use of them as he pleases for the help of his people, and restrain them when he pleases from hurting his people.”[7]

David writes in Psalm 139:7-12, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ / Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; / The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”

Here, David shares several hypothetical situations to explain what theologians refer to as the omnipresence of God.

II. His Provision

In Psalm 121:3 we read, “He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon comments, “Though the paths of life are dangerous and difficult—yet we shall stand fast, for Jehovah will not permit our feet to slide; and if He will not allow it—we shall not be moved! If our foot will is thus kept—we may be sure that our head and heart will be preserved also! Those who have God for their keeper—shall be safe from all the perils of the way.

Among the hills and ravines of Palestine, the literal keeping of the feet is a great mercy; but in the slippery paths of a tempted, tried and afflicted life, the blessing of upholding is of priceless value—for a single false step might cause us a fall fraught with awful danger! To stand 'steadfast' and pursue our holy way—is a blessing which only God can give. It is worthy of His divine hand, and worthy also of our perennial gratitude. Our feet shall move in heavenly progress—and we shall never be overthrown!”

He further comments, “We could not stand a moment—if our Divine Keeper were to sleep! We need him by day and by night; not a single step can be safely taken—except under His guardian eye. This is a choice stanza in a pilgrim song. God is the convoy and body-guard of his people. When dangers are all around us—we are safe, for our Preserver is awake also, and will not permit us to be moved. No fatigue of exhaustion can cast our God into sleep—His watchful eyes are never closed!”[8]

We read in Psalm 91:9-13, “Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”

III. His Promise

We read in Psalm 121:4, “Behold, He who keeps Israel / Shall neither slumber nor sleep.” God promises His watch care.

Rev. Matthew Henry writes, “To comfort ourselves in God when our difficulties and dangers are greatest. It is here promised that if we put our trust in God, and keep in the way of our duty, we shall be safe under his protection, so that no real evil, no mere evil, shall happen to us, nor any affliction but what God sees good for us and will do us good by.

1. God himself has undertaken to be our protector: The Lord is thy keeper, v. 5. Whatever charge he gives his angels to keep his people, he has not thereby discharged himself, so that, whether every particular saint has an angel for his guardian or no, we are sure he has God himself for his guardian. It is infinite wisdom that contrives, and infinite power that works, the safety of those that have put themselves under God's protection. Those must needs be well kept that have the Lord for their keeper. If, by affliction, they be made his prisoners, yet still he is their keeper.

2. The same that is the protector of the church in general is engaged for the preservation of every particular believer, the same wisdom, the same power, the same promises. He that keepeth Israel (v. 4) is thy keeper, v.5. The shepherd of the flock is the shepherd of every sheep, and will take care that not one, even of the little ones, shall perish.

3. He is a wakeful watchful keeper: ‘He that keepeth Israel, that keepeth thee, O Israelite! shall neither slumber nor sleep; he never did, nor ever will, for he is never weary; he not only does not sleep, but he does not so much as slumber; he has not the least inclination to sleep.’"[9]

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.”

Paul writes in Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In Jude 24-25 we read, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, / And to present you faultless / Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, / To God our Savior, / Who alone is wise, / Be glory and majesty, / Dominion and power, / Both now and forever. Amen.”

IV. His Protection

From Psalm 121:5-6 we read, “The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night.”

Rev. Matthew Poole (1624-1679) writes, “The sun shall not smite thee with excessive heat, nor the moon with that cold and moisture which comes into the air by it and with it. Intemperate heats and colds are the two springs of many diseases. He alludes both to the conditions of soldiers or travellers, who are exposed to the open air by day and by night, and also to the cloudy pillar which defended the Israelites both by day and by night. The sense is, He shall protect thee from all evils both by day and night.”[10]

From the Pulpit Commentary we learn “‘Thy shade’ means ‘thy protection’ or ‘thy defense.’ Protection was especially needed on the right hand, as the side which no shield guarded. Latin writers call the right side ‘latus aperture.’”[11]

V. His Preservation

In Psalm 121:7-8 we read, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in / From this time forth, and even forevermore.”

We read in Numbers 27:15-17, “Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’” Also Moses writes in Deuteronomy 28:6, “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.”

“The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in . . .” From the Pulpit Commentary we read, “The phrase is an equivalent of ‘The Lord shall preserve thee in all thy ways’ (Psalm 91:11). From this time forth, and even forevermore; i.e. so long as thou hast ‘goings out’ and ‘comings in.’ But the phrase used rather implies that these will never cease.”[12]


From the Biblical Illustrator we read, “It does not content the believer that great privileges are his; he longs to share them with others; they seem but half enjoyed unless enjoyed in the fellowship and communion with multitudes possessing like precious faith.”[13]

Dr. Harold Myra shares, “While bedridden, [Fred Smith, Sr. (1915-2007)] wrote, ‘A principle that has been very sustaining to me in my disability is one that Oswald Chambers helped me to see. ‘God will not give you strength to overcome, but will give you strength as you overcome.'"[14]

Sharon and I heard Dr. W. A. Criswell (1909-2002) sing, “I Feel Like Traveling On” at the Broughton Tabernacle in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1991.

Dr. W. A. Criswell shared a year before from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, “Heaven is the heart and soul of our Christian message and hope. It is our life beyond the veil of death. So, poignantly do I remember, one time, as a young minister, a young pastor of a village church, I attended the Green River Baptist Association. It was a convocation of messengers from sixty-five quarter-time churches, churches that had just services once a month. They were from the hill country, from the Knob country. The Association met outdoors, under the trees and we sat on split logs. And as the program progressed, somebody stood up and began to sing a song. Then, somebody else joined in. And, finally, all were standing, singing that song, shaking hands and weeping. And, that song was this:

My heavenly home is bright and fair.

And I want to be traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there.

And I want to be traveling on.

Oh, the Lord has been so good to me.

I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see.

I feel like traveling on.”[15]

Remember the lyrics of the song by Eliza E. Hewitt titled, “When We All Get To Heaven,” “When my traveling days are over not a shadow not a sigh.”[16]

Each one of us will travel to a place called hell or to a place called heaven. Many times I tell those on an elevator, “Make sure your last trip is up.” Make certain you are on your way to heaven. The only way to be certain is to repent of sin and believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1]Clarence H. Benson and Robert J. Morgan, Exploring Theology: A Guide for Systematic Theology and Apologetics: A Guide for Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Book One, 52, © 2003, 2004 by Evangelical Training Association, Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

[2]William Garden Blaikie, The Personal Life of David Livingstone (London: John Murray, 1880), 36

[3]Cited from Herbert Lockyer, Psalms: A Devotional Commentary, 622-623

James Montgomery Boice, Boice Expositional Commentary - An Expositional Commentary – Psalms, Volume 3: Psalms 107-150.

[4]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), Database WORDsearch Corp.

[5]G. Rawlinson, E.R. Conder, and W. Clarkson, The Pulpit Commentary – Psalms, edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell,

Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

[6]William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 749

[7]Matthew Henry Commentary

[8]Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 121, accessed 11/19/13,

[9]Matthew Henry Commentary

[10]Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Bible, Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

[11]The Pulpit Commentary – Psalms.

[12]The Pulpit Commentary – Psalms

[13]The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, Psalm 121:4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d. [originally published New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1887]), 159-160

[14]Harold Myra, The One Year Book of Encouragement: 365 Days of Inspiration and Wisdom for your Spiritual Journey, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2010), 118

[15]W. A. Criswell, “What I Believe About Heaven: The Place” Sermon Notes, (John 14:2-3), 05-27-90

[16]Eliza E. Hewitt, “When We All Get To Heaven,” (1898)

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / (251) 626-6210

© November 24, 2013 All Rights Reserved