Review: A Sweet and Bitter Providence

A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper


“Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face”

This is a popular level devotional commentary on the book of Ruth. It was originally 4 sermons preached in 1984 at Bethlehem Baptist Church. After reading Ruth: Under the Wings of God, I wanted a more in depth look at the things Piper was seeing in the book of Ruth.

Piper places the book of Ruth within God’s big picture of redemptive history, and shows how the events in this book relate in incredible ways to Jesus Christ. “Huge things are at stake. God is putting in place the ancestry of Jesus the Messiah, whose kingdom will endure forever.” (p. 24) However, this is not a “spiritualizing,” finding mystical and speculative references to Jesus hidden in the details of the story. Rather, John Piper is a master at seeing so clearly what is actually there: in the text, in the history, in the emotions of the characters, and in the purposes of God. He draws out details that I would normally miss and points to God’s perfect big-picture plan in a way that is breathtaking. “Elimelech and Naomi are from Bethlehem where we know Jesus will be born one day – which raises our awareness again of how explosive this book is with connections to the Messiah.” (25)

Along the way there are extremely helpful lessons on dealing with bitterness and suffering; a picture of Godly womanhood; God’s providence in the darkest of times – personally and nationally; God’s purposes to include every ethnos; how God’s own glory is at stake in your joy; the concept of “strategic” righteousness.

Usually, when I think “popular level commentary” I don’t expect much. I expect it to be “lite”, and not to get very much out of it. This book bucks that trend considerably. Piper’s insights are incredibly deep, but presented at a level where anyone can grasp them. I was greatly encouraged in my own life to trust God and His good purposes, even when I can’t figure it out for today. My eyes were drawn to Christ over and over again. This book is worthy of multiple readings, and I highly recommend it.

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