Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper (Crossway).
Ruth is a very old book. The events took place over three thousand years ago. Could it be relevant and helpful for your life? I think so. The sovereignty of God, the sexual nature of man, and the gospel never change. And since God is still sovereign, and you are male or female, and Christ is alive and powerful, the book has a message for you.
I don't know you or your circumstances well enough to say for sure that you should read this book. You must decide. To be sure, there are other things to do that are just as important—like telling your neighbor about Jesus. So let me simply tell you why I think you might be helped if you join me in listening to the message of Ruth. I'll make these seven reasons brief, so you can decide and be on your way or stay.
The Word of God
First, the book of Ruth is part of the Scriptures, which Jesus loved. He said, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). He said, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law [a reference to the Scriptures] until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). And best of all he said, "[T]he Scriptures . . . bear witness about me" (John 5:39).
The reason these Scriptures—including Ruth—cannot be broken is that they are God's word. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). "Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, the message of Ruth is unwaveringly true. It's a rock to stand on when the terrain of ideas feels like quicksand. It's an anchor to hold us when tides are ripping.
But the best thing about the Scriptures is that they give hope, because they point to Jesus Christ. They were "written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4). The message of Ruth is filled with God-inspired hope.
A Love Story
Second, Ruth is a love story. One commentary suggests that it may be "the most beautiful short story ever written." There are some heart-stopping moments. Not often do we get the richest and deepest truth in the form of a passionate love story. The way Ruth and Boaz find each other is the stuff of epics. It involves God's sovereign rule over nations and reaches across thousands of years in its purpose. But the story is the flesh-and-blood experience of one family living the unexpected plan of God.
Manhood and Womanhood
Third, the book of Ruth is the portrait of beautiful, noble manhood and womanhood. The greatness of manhood and womanhood is more than sex. It is more than a throbbing love story. In a day when movies and television and advertising and the Internet portray masculinity and femininity in the lowest ways, we are in great need of stories that elevate the magnificent meaning of manhood and womanhood.
In making sex the main thing, the modern world is losing the glory and beauty and depth and power of what sexuality becomes when it runs like a deep and mighty river between the high banks of righteousness. Ruth and Boaz are extraordinary. Men and women today need heroes like this.
Fourth, the story of Ruth addresses one of the great issues of our time: racial and ethnic diversity and harmony. Racism and all manner of ethnocentrisms are as common today around the world as they ever have been. The shrinking of the planet into immediate access on the Internet has brought thousands of strange people and strange patterns of life into our lives—and put our strangeness into their lives. Diversity is a given in this world. The question is how we will think and feel and act about it.
Consider a few facts from the U. S. Census Bureau about what is in store for America:
Minorities, now [August 2008] roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042, with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050. By 2023, minorities will comprise more than half of all children. . . . The non-Hispanic, single-race white population is projected to be only slightly larger in 2050 (203.3 million) than in 2008 (199.8 million). In fact, this group is projected to lose population in the 2030s and 2040s and comprise 46 percent of the total population in 2050, down from 66 percent in 2008.
Ruth is an "unclean" pagan Moabitess. But she is drawn into faith and into the lineage of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Her marriage is an interracial marriage. There are lessons here that we need as much today as ever.
The Sovereignty of God
Fifth, the most prominent purpose of the book of Ruth is to bring the calamities and sorrows of life under the sway of God's providence and show us that God's purposes are good. It is not a false statement when Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, says, "[T]he Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. . . . [T]he Almighty has brought calamity upon me" (Ruth 1:20-21).
That is true. But here's the question the book answers: Is God's bitter providence the last word? Are bitter ingredients (like vanilla extract) put in the mixer to make the cake taste bad? Everywhere I look in the world today, whether near or far, the issue for real people in real life is, Can I trust and love the God who has dealt me this painful hand in life? That is the question the book of Ruth intends to answer.
Sixth, the gift of hope in God's providence is meant to overflow in radical acts of love for hurting people. The book of Ruth is not in the Bible merely to help us think right thoughts about God. Nor merely to give us hope in his good providence. That hope-filled confidence is meant to release radical, risk-taking love. It's there to make you a new kind of person—a person who is able "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
The Glory of Christ
Seventh, the book of Ruth aims to show that all of history, even its darkest hours, serves to magnify the glory of God's grace. In surprising ways, a thousand years before Christ, this book glorifies his saving work on the cross, as we will see. Ruth is about the work of God in the darkest of times to prepare the world for the glories of Jesus Christ.
I invite you to join me as we walk together through this amazing story.
Taken from A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper (2010, Crossway).
Used with permission.
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