"Now I think I understand you Job when you utter that memorable and utterly hopeless line in 7:16--'I loathe (despise, reject) my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath." But you know, Job, all the translators save one or two have mistranslated your first words in this verse and hence have not let your full cry of despair be heard. I need to explain this, since you don't know what English-language interpreters have done with you, Job.
Let me put it as clearly as I can. Your actual words, Job are "I despise; I would not live forever." There is no object for the verb "despise" (maas). Probably the most significant English-language commentator on your work says that an object is implied, and so he also translates it "I have rejected my life" (Clines, Job, p.157). But it doesn't say that. It only says "I despise." Period. What is interesting is that every other place that one of the characters uses that word in your book (about seven or so times), except one, an object is expressly stated. The only exception is 42:6, which I really want to get to in a moment.
So, for example--and you know all this, so please forgive me for bringing this to you, Job, but I think it is important to understand your mental state when you use the word-- in 5:17 your friend Eliphaz tells you not to "despise (maas) the instruction of God." Bildad will use the same word, too, shortly after you use it in ch.7 when he says that God will not reject (maas) a blameless person (8:20). So, 'maas' frequently takes an object. It may even naturally take an object. But it doesn't do so HERE or in 42:6. Why not?
Well, here is what I think, Job. I think that when you said "I despise," it was almost as if you were expelling every ounce of your energy; you were trying to spew out every noxious influence and belief that, along with your physical ailments, had debilitated you. What did you despise exactly? Well, you despised your friends. You despised your God. And, you despised everything connected with your life. You felt betrayed, utterly scorned, taken advantage of, exploited, manipulated, attacked, uprooted, as if a tsunami of incalculable proportions had rushed over you. It is no mistake that several references to death or the shortness of your life follow quickly after "I despise." Life itself is no longer a gift; it is a sour and queer joke; it is a grim theater where meaning is taken away precisely at the time that meaning is most craved. You are thinking a lot about your breath in this verse, and that is what you feel like when you expel the word "despise." You feel that you are a puff of smoke waiting for a slight gust of wind. You put so much into living, Job, didn't you? You put so much into the hope that motivated your life. But it is a cruel, unrelenting, unremitting, unredeemable disaster.
So what it really means when you say "I despise (loathe, reject)" is that you have collapsed internally. Reversal of all good things is the order of the day--and you reverse the meaning of Ps. 8 immediately in 7:17. And, your longing for death and for the finality of your existence is a sign that you are suffering emotional exhaustion. The "real presence" of God, through the torments of the dreams and your inability to swallow your spittle (7:19), is utterly oppressive.
With this as your reality, Job, it would be easy to understand if you simply gave up, simply packed it in and said no more. Where, indeed, can you go after you have hit the nail on the head--that God is unjustly oppressing you and doesn't seem inclined to change things at all or even to give you heed? You have such an unerring sense for the truth of the matter, Job, and I love this about you, that I could understand it if you would have just become mum. You would have become overwhelmed by the horror of what you experienced, sort of a Hebrew Niobe who, instead of being frozen in your tears, is frozen in complete stupefaction.
But, you know, Job, what keeps you talking? It is law. Law, of all things. I am a law professor, so I can sometimes see law sneaking in before other people do. You see, you, like thousands of other plaintiffs, will seek to use the system and language of law to restore your rights if not try to restore your soul. The next time you speak you will begin to use the language of legal procedure to try to ensure a hearing before this arbitrary God. Law then serves as a bridge between the horrid hell in which you find yourself and your ultimate hope, which you will develop in later chapters.
Now that is something worth pondering, Job. Instead of letting the inner collapse of 7:16, captured in the word 'maas,' be the last word in your life, you will scratch and claw and scrape and try to wrest back your dignity and your life. What is this other than the triumph of the human spirit? Law is the conduit to take you from complete ruin to unexpected hope.
Well, we are out of time once again, Job, but I want to say one more thing. I feel inclined to ask you about your use of law to help you out, but first I have to pursue this verb 'maas' a little more. I will leap to the end of the book and ask you why you use the same word in 42:6. I don't think anyone, much less you, will like what I am about to say, Job....