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68. Job Terrorized in 7:14-16
The two verbs capturing Job’s sense of terror in 7:14 are chathath (51x, “to shatter” or “to dismay”) and baath (16x, “to terrorize”). Though chathath certainly has a scary connotation, in every instance but one in which it is used before Job in the Bible it appears with a negative: “do not be dismayed.” Often it is paired with verbs for “fear” (yare; e.g., I Chronicles 22:13; 28:20) or “tremble” (arats, Joshua 1:9) but it is used familiarly in the phrase, “Do not fear, neither be dismayed” (e.g., Deuteronomy 1:21; 31:8; Joshua 1:9; 8:1, etc). Job removes the “not” and just lets dismay or shattering stare at him.
He is shattered by dreams and terrified (baath) by visions. Though baath appears only one-third as frequently as chathath, half of its appearances are in Job. He is the master of terror. We don’t really know what is terrifying what or whom in 3:5, but in 9:34 Job asks that God’s fear not terrify (baath) him. Job shows that he knows how to use theological categories in an “orthodox” way when he talks about God’s majesty “terrifying” the friends (13:11). The verb perhaps has its most memorable appearances in I Samuel 16:14, 15 where an evil spirit from the Lord “terrorizes” or "haunts" Saul.
The terror Job feels through the nighttime dreams and visions makes him want to die. But he says so in an arresting way: he would prefer “strangling” or “being hung” (chanaq is verb; actual word here is the hapax noun machanaq), using the same rare verb that is used to describe the dramatic suicide by hanging of Ahithophel, who chose this method to end everything after his counsel was rejected and a bleak future is was all that remained for himself (II Samuel 17:23). Note the crucial position of nephesh, the “soul,” in 7:15. It is in the middle of five words. The nephesh is, according to Genesis 2, the thing that makes brings humans alive. In creating humans, God created a nephesh chayah, a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Now that thing, which still occupies a central position in the verse, is no longer desired. In its place is “hanging.” Or, in the final two words, “death rather than my bones.” The Janus-word of nephesh, (i.e., the word that swings both ways) is powerless to restore Job’s life.
Francis Anderson has perhaps the most elegant and creative reading of 7:15 I have seen. Positing a rich Canannite mythological background for the verse, Anderson personifies the nouns here, making “maveth” (death) as the “Mot” (death) of Canaanite myth, the Mot who strangles Baal. This “Death,” thus personified, is actually gripping the neck of Job in his dream. The thought would then be that the Strangler chooses the neck and Death the bones, thus sapping all the life from Job. Rather than Job “preferring” or “choosing” this form of death, it would be the unseen forces of the dream selecting this brand of terror for Job.
All of this is too much for Job. So in verse 16 he pauses and utters four staccato-like thoughts in nine words that serve both to “wake” him from this tormenting nightmare and then prepare him for a favorite pastime: turning Scripture on its head (7:17). Before we get to that thought, we should note Job’s brief, and not always clear, musings in 7:16. They may be rendered,
“I fade away (verb is maas); I will not live forever; cease from me (i.e., cease the torment or leave me alone); my days are a mere bubble/vanity.”
Let’s look at each sacred expression of desperation. Job here first uses maas, a verb that is probably connected with masas. In my judgment, it is the maas/masas connection which is now at the center of a central debate in translating the Book of Job—i.e., how best to render it, especially in 42:6. Formerly, whenever one saw maas it was “loathe” or “despise” or “reject,” but in this case, as in 7:5 and 42:6, it has no object. When it has an object in Job (or elsewhere), we can see how “reject/despise/loathe” is appropriate. For example, Job asks God with great indignation, “Does it seem to be good to you to oppress, to reject (maas) the labor of your hands” (10:3). Yet when it doesn’t have an object, it seems to function very similarly to masas, which means “to fade away” or “to melt” or “to waste away.” I rendered it that way in 7:5, and I plan to do the same for 42:6. Here it makes most sense if we render it “fading away.” Job is overwhelmed by the power of the night forces; he has no more fight left in him. He wants to fade away in death, which is preferable than all the suffering he endures.
The second phrase seems to confirm this approach: “I will not live forever.” Some have rendered this as an expression of revulsion, “I just don’t desire life anymore!” The third phrase uses the 58x-appearing verb chadal, “to cease” or “to stop.” It’s meaning is almost always very clear. When the people were building the Tower of Babel, God intervened, and they “ceased” (chadal) from their building (Genesis 11:8). It appears three times in Exodus 9 to describe thunder that ceases (vv 29, 33, 34). When Job here utters the two-word phrase “Cease from me,” he simply is asking God to leave him alone. It will be the same thought that he utters, but with more despair, in 7:19 (literally, “look away from me”). Job, who turns theological concepts upside down, likewise does so on the idea of divine presence. Rather than it being a comforting or sustaining reality, it is a constant torment.
Finally, he admits that his days are a mere “breath” (hebel).The word hebel is normally translated “vanity” or “breath,” and its meaning here, as Clines suggests, is probably best connected with the thought of verse 6, where Job’s days were “fleeting” or “transitory.” But hebel is also a great word to describe the emptiness of life. As mentioned previously, Ecclesiastes 1-2 uses the word 14x, thus creating the “hebel inflation” in Biblical statistics (73 appearances). Job’s more favorite word for “vanity” or “emptiness” is shav, which we just saw in 7:3. But when one is in great distress and wants to die, it probably seems relatively unimportant whether one describes life as empty, meaningless or vain. It all amounts to pretty much the same thing.