Most of us, at one time or another, have read the entirety of or at least certain parts of the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil. Of course you probably know that I’m referring to Jonathan Edward’s sermon ‘Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God.’ The most often quoted paragraph in that sermon is as follows:
“…there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and the Hell but God…if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a spider’s web would have stop a fallen rock…The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready to string and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”
I begin with this truthful and powerful warning from Edwards this evening because as we read Job 18 we read something very similar. In this second speech to Job Bildad warns Job of the end of the wicked by telling him of the fires and torments of hell. It is a good sermon on hell, and we all should be so warned of these things. But because Bildad applies it to Job his sermon on hell is unhelpful, yet in understanding why his sermon is unhelpful will nevertheless prove to be helpful to us.So Job 18 can rightly be called, ‘Sinners In the Hands of Bildad’s god.’
He begins in v1-4 saying, “Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said: “How long will you hunt for words? Consider, and then we will speak. Why are we counted as cattle? Why are we stupid in your sight? You who tear yourself in your anger, shall the earth be forsaken for you, or the rock be removed out of its place?”
The ‘you’ in v1 is plural which indicates Bildad isn’t addressing Job in isolation but is addressing him now as part of the larger category of the wicked. It’s as if, according to Bildad, that Job no longer belongs to their company or fellowship but belongs to the whole host of the wicked who hunt down words to justify themselves in their sin. His first call is in v2 when he asks Job to ‘Consider’ or ‘come to his senses’ and realize how wrong he’s been. Back in 12:7 Job said the counsel from his friends was so poor that he might as well ask for counsel from cattle and other beasts of the earth. Apparently Bildad remembers this comment because he brings it up again here in v2 asking Job why he likens them to stupid cattle who don’t serve him well. Bildad doesn’t think he’s as dumb as an ox, he’s taking offense to that, and is about to respond in v5-21. But first in v3-4 he responds to Job’s comments about God ‘tearing at him in His wrath’ (16:9) and tells him what’s really happening to him isn’t God’s wrath coming against him to harm him but self-harm that’s plaguing him, which in turn is causing Job to want even the stability of the earth to change so he can feel better. The picture at the end of v4 is of an orderly universe which Job wants to disrupt and remove things from their rightful place for his own comfort. Bildad believes Job is acting like a rude houseguest who comes in and wants to trash the place for his own selfish purposes without regard for anyone else.
Now we come to the main portion of chapter 18. v5-21 say the following, “Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine. The light is dark in his tent, and his lamp above him is put out. His strong steps are shortened, and his own schemes throw him down. For he is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walks on its mesh. A trap seizes him by the heel; a snare lays hold of him. A rope is hidden for him in the ground, a trap for him in the path. Terrors frighten him on every side, and chase him at his heels. His strength is famished, and calamity is ready for his stumbling. It consumes the parts of his skin; the firstborn of death consumes his limbs. He is torn from the tent in which he trusted and is brought to the king of terrors. In his tent dwells that which is none of his; sulfur is scattered over his habitation. His roots dry up beneath, and his branches wither above. His memory perishes from the earth, and he has no name in the street. He is thrust from light into darkness, and driven out of the world. He has no posterity or progeny among his people, and no survivor where he used to live. They of the west are appalled at his day, and horror seizes them of the east. Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God.”
Bildad gives us five pictures of the ‘place’ the wicked will ultimately dwell. First, hell is darkness. In v5-6 four words are used to express this, ‘light’, ‘flame’, ‘fire, and ‘lamp.’ In each of these four instances when the wicked enter into hell all light will go out, the flame will not quenched, the fire will not blaze, and the lamp will be put out. Job earlier said in 10:21-22 that he feels as if God has taken him on a one-way trip to the land of thick darkness. Later in 17:13 Job said because of his great suffering he now must figure out how to make his bed in this darkness because he feels it won’t ever lift. By using Job’s own images and words of darkness here in chapter 18 Bildad is agreeing with Job, stating that Job is really in darkness, but he’s implying that the only people who suffer such a fate are the wicked.
Second, hell is inescapable. In v7-10 we find six words describing one being trapped. One who thinks he is a strong and pure man is really just a man well on his way to having his steps shortened by his own deceitful scheming. By living in the wicked manner he has, this strong man will come into ruin and dismay. How? His own feet will be the means which cast him into a net, and once in that net he’ll continue to try and walk but only find that his feet become further entangled and ensnared in this net. He has been seized, trapped by a rope he never saw coming, and laid hold of by his own sins and now faces the punishment of those sins, a punishment so thorough that he cannot ever hope to escape it. Again, Job has before used such language. In 3:23, 10:16, and 13:27 Job has said God hunted him, trapped him, ensnared him, and hedged him in…so deeply that he can never hope to be set free again. Bildad agrees with him but implies, only the wicked experience such punishment.
Third, hell is terror. In v11-14 Bildad says hell isn’t only darkness and an inescapable trap, it is full of terror. Surrounding the wicked on every side, chasing them down, wearying out their strength, bringing calamity and stumbling on them, consuming their health, tearing away all their fortresses they formerly trusted in, and (perhaps most horrific of all) ushering them into the very presence of the king of terror, Satan himself. In this sense the terrors of hell, to the wicked who experience them, feel something like the Nazgul or the Black Riders in the Lord of the Rings ever chasing and aiming to bring you before the Dark Lord Sauron. Or like the evil wolves running out of the icy castle of the White Witch in Narnia aiming to capture you for her. Again, Bildad uses Job’s former words against him here too. Job has said in 6:4, 7:4, 9:34, and 13:11-12 that he feels as if the terrors of God are aimed right at him, which cause sleep to flee from him, bringing fear and terror to his heart before the angry majesty of God. Bildad agrees, and says the reason Job is experiencing this terror is because he is wicked and headed for greater wickedness in hell where he’ll be brought before the king of terror.
Fourth, hell is total desolation. In v15-20 the picture painted is a bleak one as Bildad brings his second speech to a close. The life of the wicked is likened to a plant, where the fire and brimstone and sulfur of hell beneath burns up all roots under the earth and destroys all the branches above. The wicked also experience a total loss of all things near and dear to them. Their memory fades on earth, no reputation lingers, they are blotted out forever and ever. Thrust into darkness, driven out of the world, outside the camp where dryness abounds and no satisfaction is found. Locally, Bildad states the descendants of the wicked will not remember their wicked ancestors, who have been removed for the many sins. Globally, Bildad states the whole world east and west will be appalled and horrified at the fate of the wicked.
Because of all these things Bildad makes a conclusion in v21 saying, “Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God.” Nowhere does he mention Job’s name here, but by using all his former words in his sermon to condemn him Bildad is invites Job to draw his own terrifying conclusion about what will happen to sinners in the hands of his god.
Taking a step back from this sermon on hell there’s a few things to call attention to.
First, notice Bildad does not call Job to repentance as he did before. All he tells him here in chapter 18 is that his present suffering clearly shows he is already experiencing the terrors of hell and that greater and more horrific terrors await him. Perhaps, Bildad doesn’t call him to repentance because he feels Job is too far gone for such counsel. Instead, it seems to be that Bildad believes Job now only needs to be rebuked and told of the judgment that awaits him.
Second, notice Bildad’s words here about hell are accurate and powerfully persuasive about the wrath to come. God has made all things in an orderly fashion and it is true that the sin of man in general and the sin of the wicked specifically has brought chaos and disorder into His perfect creation. One day, as Bildad has said, God will tidy up His world, bring His children home, and usher the wicked and unbelieving into everlasting hellfire and judgment. What Bildad describes here is a horrifying picture of the suffering of hell that reaches its apex as the wicked are brought lower and lower into hell to the point where they are led straight in front of the king of terror.
Third, though his words of hell are accurate. Bildad is wrong to apply them to Job. Again we come back to the pronouncement God has made. Job isn’t wicked, rather he is an upright and blameless man as chapters 1-2 made clear. Ironically while Bildad is quick to deal out death and judgment to Job, he is himself in more danger of the very things he speaks of because he doesn’t know God.
Fourth, be grateful. Chapter 18 is a description of what Jesus endured on the cross for all who will one day believe. We need fear no judgment because Christ has been judged already and been found righteous. Trip Lee puts it like this, “I hear the drummers coming for me death is at my doorway. Fear says Imma perish but that ain’t what my Lord say. He said I ain’t guilty though I still ain’t have my court date, I’ve tasted and I’ve seen even though it’s just a foretaste.”
Fifth, be warned. Chapter 18 is a description of what the wicked will endure in hell. This ought to move you to repent from your sin if you’re not a Christian here tonight. And, this ought to move you share the gospel with the lost in your life if you’re a Christian here tonight.
Sixth, hear and heed the end of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon. “And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the Pit of Hell, whether they be old Men and Women, or middle Aged, or young People, or little Children, now hearken to the loud Calls of God’s Word and Providence. This acceptable Year of the Lord, that is a Day of such great favor to some, will doubtless be a Day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men’s Hearts harden, and their of an angry GOD. Guilt increases apace at such a Day as this, if they neglect their Souls: and never was there so great Danger of such Persons being given up to hardness of Heart, and blindness of Mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his Elect in all Parts of the Land; and probably the bigger Part of adult Per- sons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little Time, and that it will be as it was on that great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the Apostles Days, the Election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the Case with you, you will eternally curse this Day, and will curse the Day that ever you was born, to see such a Season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit; and will wish that you had died and gone to Hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the Days of John the Baptist, the Ax is in an extraordinary Manner laid at the Root of the Trees, that every Tree that brings not forth good Fruit, may be hewn down, and cast into the Fire. Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and y from the Wrath to come. The Wrath of almighty GOD is now undoubtedly hanging over great Part of this Congregation: Let every one y out of Sodom: Haste and escape for your Lives, look not behind you, escape to the Mountain, least you be consumed.”
Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, compiled by Hendrickson, page 399-413.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 199.
Trip Lee and Lecrae, I’m Good – The Good Life (2012).