“In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.” – The Psalmist asks God to “quicken” him or “give him life”, “after” or “according” to his covenant love. The Psalmist is not asking that God regenerate him. The Psalmist is already a spirit-inspired, regenerate prophet. In this context, he is either being persecuted by his enemies and his prayer that God give him life is a plea for his preservation for death, or he is speaking poetically of his condition as comparable to that of death, as Heman in Psalm 88. The sense may be, then, that he feels as though he is about to die and he is asking that God preserve him from this.
He asks that God would preserve his life, either through deliverance from persecution by his enemies or from imminent death from some other pernicious influene, in order that he might continue to keep God’s commandments. Basing the petition for one’s salvation or deliverance, either temporal or eschatological on the glory unto God that comes from keeping his commandments, is our best bet. God tells us repeatedly throughout scripture that the primary end of the salvation of the elect (as well as the condemnation of the reprobate) is the manifestation of his attributes to his eternal glory. God is surely more likely to hear us if we base our petition for deliverance upon such a thing than anything else, as it is God’s end in all things(Rom. 11:36).
But it is also possible that the Psalmist may have something else in mind. We have seen throughout Psalm 119 that the Psalmist can be fairly described as having quite a tender and scrupulous conscience. I certainly sympathize with him in this. He is conscious of his many heinous failures throughout life and he may want to make up his lackluster performance to God by being granted to live longer in order that he might not come to his deathbed only to mourn over squandered opportunities to glorify God and to store up eternal treasure in heaven.
We ought also note that it is on the basis of God’s steadfast, covenant love that the Psalmist petitions for his renewal and improved obedience. That is to say, he is conscious of his being an elect member of God’s covenant. The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” here is “chesed”, one of the most important words in all the Old Testament. It refers to God’s gracious, unmerited, covenantal kindness toward sinners who not only do not deserve his kindness, but have demerited and forfeited the right to it through sin. The Psalmist is reminding God of God’s continual promise of the irrevocability of his steadfast love toward his saints(Mal. 3:6), and of his promise to preserve and to restore the author to obedience even in the midst of the most heinous sin. Although we may fall into serious sin, and be chastised severely even to the point of death by God as discipline, God’s steadfast covenant-love never departs from us. The Psalmist thus beseeches God for mercy, reminding God that he is God’s son and that he only wants to continue to live in order to glorify him through obedience.
The overriding concern and hunger of the saint is to keep the commandments of God. This is not a meritorious obedience according to which the Psalmist (or anyone else) expects or ought to expect to earn favor on the part of God, but is simply the spontaneous outpouring of love for God and hunger for his presence and shining countenance that increases with obedience. We ought always be mindful of the danger of having our life choked out by the cares and concerns of this world. Jesus told us a parable of the rich man who had stored up plenty in his barn thinking that he would be able to simply relax and to live for himself for a long time, only to have his life demanded of him that very night.
These commandments are said to have roceeded from the mouth of God. We are reminded here that disobedience of the scripture is a transgression against the sovereign God of all the universe. The Psalmist may have in mind Deuteronomy, in which we are told that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. His frequent references throughout this Psalm to panting after God’s word reflects the hunger that every saint feels (or ought to feel) concerning communion with God through obedience and study of the scriptures.