The man is a dynamo. Knowing as I now do how much heartache and mental effort can go into just one book, the many volumes that Piper has produced are a monumental achievement. Most of us find it hard to even keep up with reading all of them. They are all good, but some of his works stand out as exceptional. I believe that his book on Ruth called A Sweet and Bitter Providence (Crossway, 2010) is one that it is important you do not miss. Piper crams a lot of teaching into a short book, which also includes the full text of the biblical book. He shows us the sovereignty of God and portrays the value and dignity of women. He shows how, when God calls us to suffer, there is always both bitter and sweet components to the experience. Here are a couple of extracts:
[Ruth] is different from most people today. We have a sense of entitlement. We expect kindness and are astonished and resentful if we don’t get our “rights.” But Ruth expresses her sense of unworthiness by falling on her face and bowing to the ground. Proud people don’t feel amazed at being treated well. They don’t feel deep gratefulness. But humble people do. In fact, they are made even more humble by being treated graciously. They are so amazed that grace came to them in their unworthiness that they feel even more lowly. But they receive the gift. Joy increases, not self-importance. Grace is not intended to replace lowliness with pride. It’s intended to replace sorrow with joy. (Page 64-65)
Here Piper explains why it is that some people can honestly say that they are humbled by great success. I pray that I will always be amazed at how well I am treated. Certainly my recent trip to the USA with its warm welcomes from so many people, and so many people opening their homes to me, was an incredible blessing. I thank God for how he has directed my paths, and for how graciously I have been received. It was far greater than I deserve. May we all learn to drop our idea that we have “rights” and our sense of entitlement.
God’s sovereignty even over our sin is nicely explained in the next quote I also want to share with you:
In fact, during the time of the judges, it was sin to demand a king. Nevertheless, near the end of this period, the people asked for a king . . . Asking for a king meant that they were rejecting God as their king. This, Samuel says, was a great wickedness . . .
Nevertheless, the book of Ruth is written with a clear sense of joy that Ruth and Naomi and Boaz are the forebears of the king of Israel. So in the same period when it was a “great wickedness” to ask for a king, God was preparing to give the people a king. We are meant to conclude that, without approving of sin, God governs the sinful acts of men for his own good and wise purposes. He was planning that Israel would have a king, though it was sin for the people to demand one. (Page 114)
Knowing God rules, even over my mistakes, gives me great confidence that he will make sure I finish the race well. I am confident to trust my life into Jesus’ hands and to ask him to guide me and mold me into what he wants me to be. He will make sure I become the man I was meant to be.
Piper has also written a companion volume, which is a collection of poems dramatizing the story. I read this first and it reminded me how full of life and fresh the story of Ruth really is. Seen through the eyes of the great-great grandson of Ruth and Boaz, it is a fresh reminder that King David would surely have grown up hearing the remarkable story of his ancestors. No wonder he had such a confidence in the sovereign hand of God at work in his life to protect and guide him, even through difficulties. This story should inspire us, as it no doubt inspired him.