From This Day Forward

Lesson Focus: This lesson is about ways husbands and wives can build a foundation for a growing marital relationship.

Confess and Repent: Psalm 51:6-10.

[6]  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. [7]  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [8]  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. [9]  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. [10]  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  [ESV]

[6-7]  Whereas verse 5 acknowledges how radically sin has characterized David’s entire life, verse 6 notes how radically God looks for truthfulness or trustworthiness and wisdom, as God has now enabled David to recognize. The places that are hidden or secret may be the location of the sins on which verses 3-6 as a whole focus. As well as standing in front of David [3] and of God [4] and being a reality through David’s entire life [5], sin characterizes David’s private life. God is concerned for truthfulness and insight in the way people talk and behave behind closed doors. But people in their sinfulness cannot respond unless the Lord sends wisdom from on high. Only divine wisdom can bring a remedy to the sinful condition of the heart. Only by receiving revelation from the outside can the inside become whole. Verse 7 restates the prayer in verse 2 taking up the language of purification and washing but adds the means of the purifying or purging. There is nothing special about hyssop in itself; it is a convenient plant for the sacramental sprinkling of blood or water in a variety of connections. David may be referring to the instructions in Numbers 19:14-19 where hyssop is used to clean the tent where someone died and all the people who came in contact with the tent or the dead person. The failure of which the psalm speaks has left a stain that needs cleansing. David asks God to act like the friend who sprinkles the people who lived in that tent so that people and tent become pure again and able to live their ordinary lives. The second part of verse 7 is a natural image for true cleansing, because whiteness contrasts either with bloodiness or with the dark clothing and dirty appearance taken on by people mourning their sin.

[8-10]  The result will be joy. David appeals for God to speak a word that will convey joy and gladness. When we acknowledge to someone that we have let them down in some way, we wait anxiously for the response, hoping it will assure us that things are all right. In an analogous way David hopes for a response from God. The second part of verse 8 makes the notion of joy and gladness more concrete. The bones stand for the person as a whole with particular reference to the physical state. The difference from most prayer psalms is that usually physical suffering has nothing to do with sin. Here the implication is that David has felt the results of sin in his body. Failures and waywardness reappear once more [see verse 2]. So far the psalm has been concerned for the removal of what causes stain, and that is again the aim of the second part of verse 9 which also takes up its verb from verse 1. If that happens, there will be no need for the averting of God’s face, that is, there will be nothing for God to find distasteful. The appeal to hide the face rather recalls the more abstract expressions that opened the psalm; it would be an expression of grace, commitment, and compassion. It is a unique application of a common image. Everywhere else the psalms plead for God’s face not to be hidden; they want God’s attention. David needs to avoid that attention momentarily, needs the averting of the face in order meanwhile to have something done about what makes God not want to look at this person. The new plea in verse 10 presupposes that the person needs not only cleaning but also renewing. It will be verse 17 that makes more explicit why that is. The fact that the spirit is broken, the heart crushed, actually clears the way for renewing. Only something that is broken can be made new. Being broken is not a sufficient condition for being renewed, but it is a necessary one. It opens up the space for God to do that new work. Create suggests the sovereign power God exercises in doing something seemingly impossible. The earlier plea has presupposed that it is indispensable that God should purify the outward person; if God merely purified the heart, the person who was still stained would still not be able to stand before God or before the community or before the self. But it is also indispensable for the inner person to be pure. In part that is for similar reasons: the community may not be able to see the stain there, but God and the individual can. The psalm’s language also suggests a further reason. In effect, David is asking God to do a transformative work in the inner person that deals not only with the stain that results from past wrongdoing but also with the dynamics that will continue to produce wrongdoing [see Jeremiah 17:9]. The psalm has noted in verse 6 that God looks for truth and wisdom in our private lives and behind closed doors. The plea in verse 10 corresponds to that. Because of the person’s brokenness, God needs to do a creative work. Because of the inclination to sin that has caused that brokenness, this creative work needs to issue in a heart that is pure and stays pure. The second half of verse 10 restates the point of the first half. The verb renew often means repair or restore, and that would fit with the idea that David’s spirit is broken. Spirit is parallel to heart but goes beyond it, because spirit draws attention to the dynamism of the inner springs of a person’s being, a dynamism that reflects the fact that God is spirit and is the one who breathes spirit into the person. Paradoxically, perhaps, David then asks that this spirit that God creates should be a right or steadfast one; it should combine stability with dynamism. A steadfast spirit will lack the weaknesses the psalm has implied, the susceptibility to rebelliousness, waywardness, and failure. It will be firm and reliable, determined and committed, prepared and set to go God’s way.

Catch the Little Foxes: Song of Songs: 2:15.

[15]  Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom."  [ESV]

Verse 15 provides no hint as to whether it belongs to the male’s previous address or should be part of the female’s response. The former option seems out of character with either the descriptions of nature in the heart of the male’s speech or the exhortations to his lover, which are filled with encouragement interspersed with terms of endearment. Neither appears here. On the other hand, there is not a lot of similarity with what follows. Although the female does exhort her lover to do something [17], she does not address him in the plural as in the initial command in verse 15. In fact, the whole meaning of the verse is difficult. Nevertheless, the preferred option is to understand here metaphors for those who would threaten the couple and their love. Therefore, it seems best to attach this to the words of the couple that they both sing. The structure of this verse is of interest. There are three lines. Each line has a different subject and seems to carry the thought in a new direction. The structural tie is the manner in which the last word of each line in the Hebrew forms the first word of the next line. Thus foxes appears in the Hebrew as the last word of the first line and the first word of the second. The same is true with respect to vineyards for the second and third lines. A possible meaning of the verse is that the couple pleads with those around them to restrain the young men and women from taking advantage of them and undermining their love. The vineyards represent the couple’s love, a metaphor common in the Song. The budding and blossoming of the vineyard portrays fruitfulness in the spring or early summer, as noted in 2:13. The symbolic meaning of the relationship between the lovers suggests a preparedness for sexual relations. The vineyard is a metaphor for the female’s body as well as a picture of their union of love. Their mutual desire to share their love with one another is expressed by the use of our. This is a powerful statement about the need to protect the love that the lovers possess. Those in romantic relationships know all too well how quickly a relationship can be upset, especially by interlopers. There is no certain solution, but it makes a great deal of difference if the couple together pledge to come against any attempt to interfere with that relationship, and then make this a public declaration.

Connect Spiritually: Acts 18:24-26; Romans 16:3-5.

[24]  Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. [25]  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. [26]  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. [Romans 16:3] Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4]  who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. [5]  Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.  [ESV]

[Acts 18:24-26]  The scene shifts back to Ephesus and to an insightful preacher, born in Alexandria, named Apollos. Literally, the phrase an eloquent man refers to someone who is eloquent or well educated. Alexandria was the Roman seat in Egypt. It was one of the larger cities of the empire and had a large Jewish population, occupying all of one of the five districts of the city and the majority of a second district. It was also well known for its educational opportunities and as a place of philosophical reflection. Apollos is well versed in the Scriptures, which probably means that he understands how the Scriptures make promises about the Christ. Apollos is instructed in the way of the Lord. This is probably a reference to his knowing the way to God and doing God’s will. He knows about God’s work of salvation through Jesus and God’s plan tied to it. He also is fervent in spirit. The description of someone as fervent means that the person is enthusiastic, excited, or talked with great enthusiasm. Apollos teaches about Jesus accurately but knows only of the baptism of John. Apollos is a figure caught in transition who ministers in the Diaspora and thus needs to be brought up to date. His preaching is not inaccurate, merely incomplete. Apollos is easily brought up to date when Priscilla and Aquila speak with him. They inform him of the way of God more accurately. Priscilla and Aquila update Apollos on baptism, moving him beyond John’s baptism, probably to the gift of the Spirit, telling Apollos that the Spirit has come and acquainting him with the importance of the arrival of this eschatological promise. Apollos now has a more accurate understanding of the gospel than before. Apollos now understands better than before the full benefits offered in salvation, especially as it relates to the Spirit of God. Certainly the commendation of him to Achaia tells us that the church does not have any concerns after the time of additional instruction. These verses show that not all who ministered in this early period had the full story of what God had done and yet they were effective as well as open to instruction.

[Romans 16:3-5]  Paul heads up the greeting section by designating Prisca and Aquila as my fellow workers. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus who had settled in Rome with his wife, Prisca. We know from Acts, where she is called Priscilla, that they were expelled from Rome because of Claudius’s decree expelling the Jews from the capital [Acts 18:2]. From there they traveled to Corinth, met Paul, who shared the same trade as they, and ministered with him. Next we find them at Ephesus [Acts 18:25-26], where they instruct Apollos more accurately about the gospel. By the time Romans was written they had returned to Rome and a church met in their house. When Paul wrote his last letter, however, they had returned to Ephesus [2 Tim. 4:19]. Their many travels were probably business related and attest to the mobility that was present in the Greco-Roman world. Since Prisca is named first in some texts [Acts 18:26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19], some have suggested that she was more prominent and knowledgeable than Aquila. This hypothesis may be true, although it is impossible to verify it. What we do know from this text is that Prisca and Aquila together were vitally involved in the early Christian movement. As coworkers with Paul they functioned as missionaries. What is notable here is that Prisca as a woman was as involved in this task as her husband Aquila. In verse 4 Paul communicates his thanks for Prisca and Aquila because they risked their lives to preserve his. The particular episode in which they helped Paul is unknown. Perhaps they interceded for him when the riot broke out in Ephesus [Acts 19:23-20:1; 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-11]. Since Paul was consistently imperiled by the authorities, it is impossible to locate the incident with certainty. Paul adds that the remaining Gentile churches are also grateful for Prisca and Aquila. Are they grateful for them because they helped preserve Paul’s life and thereby sustained the Gentile mission? Or were they also grateful because their own ministry was of significant benefit to the Gentiles? Certainty is impossible, but the latter seems more probable.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does your sin affect your inner person: your heart and mind? What is God’s solution to this pollution in our inner being? How do sinful desires and thoughts affect your marital relationship with your spouse? Read all of Psalm 51. Note how David recognized that our sins are ultimately against God but they also affect our relationships with others. Only when David dealt with the consequences of sin in his relationship with God was he then able to deal with the consequences of sin with other people [verses 12-13].

2.         The verse in Song of Songs is a difficult verse to interpret but appears to teach a valuable principle for the protection of the marital relationship. What is this principle? What are some practical ways you can apply this principle in your marriage?

3.         What do we know about Priscilla and Aquila? How did God use their marriage to further His kingdom?


Psalms 42-89, John Goldingay, Baker.

Song of Songs, Richard Hess, Baker.

Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker.

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