A Biblical Study of Clouds
God reveals Himself by two divine books of revelation: (1) General Revelation which focuses on the evidences of God in nature, and (2) Special Revelation which focuses on His written word, the Bible. In the following article, we set forth apologetics evidence of God revealing Himself in the clouds of the Heavens that are seen almost daily by all. The psalmist states that it is God “who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares the rains for the earth, who makes the grass to grow on the mountain” (147:8, NKJ).
We know scientifically how clouds are formed and function. We know, from this brief study, Who forms the clouds which provide for us so many blessings. God has always provided man with all good things (cf. James 1:17) and gives us an abundance of lessons from nature which He upholds by “the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).
For some unknown reason, I failed to document where I obtained the idea and thoughts expressed in this article, written some 10 years ago. For this reason, I extend my sincerest of apologies to the individual providing the suggestions and thoughts for this article. Enjoy the article and understand that God makes every cloud for some reason.
Clouds in Life and Song
The use of clouds in life. Think how often we use the word cloud or clouds in our daily life, both positively and negatively. If we have experienced a bright, clear sky and then we see clouds in the distance, the word clouds suggest a change for the worse—a storm, unneeded rain, or snow. Perhaps, they suggest a change for the better—a much needed rain or snow. Fishermen speak of the water as cloudy or clear denoting its impurity or purity. In referring to people, we often use the word clouds to describe them: (1) We say one is under a cloud describing their suspected wrong doing. (2) We speak of one who has a cloudy past suggesting that little is known about the person or that they have been in previous trouble. (3) We use the phrase casting a cloud to describe the slurring of another’s character. (4) We describe one having a cloudy expression as looking worried or anxious. (5) We describe people as having their heads in the clouds, suggesting one who is filled with pride, or is unreal, or is impractical. (6) We use the phrase on cloud nine to describe great happiness.
The use of clouds in hymns. Many hymns we sing refer to clouds in various ways. J. K. Alwood wrote his great hymn “The Unclouded Day” and used clouds to look forward to Heaven where all is peace and rest (cf. Revelation 2:14).
O, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
O, they tell me of a home far away.
O, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O, they tell me of an unclouded day.
O, the land of cloudless day.
O, the land of an unclouded sky.
O, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O, they tell me of an unclouded day. (emp. added)
Another great hymn with the implication of cloudless skies is James M. Black’s well known hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” Black wrote his hymn in anticipation and a looking forward to the second coming of Jesus in all His glory. Do you recognize the implication of cloudless skies?
On that bright and glor’ous morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share. (emp. added)
Even our secular songs make use of the words cloud or clouds. For example, remember the old song “Home on the Range”?
General Uses of Clouds in the Bible
The words cloud or clouds are used in the Bible in reference to the Godhead and the spiritual aspect of man. Consider the following:
Clouds suggest things beyond our control. Solomon writes, “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth. . . . He that observes the wind shall now sow and that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4, emp. added). When the clouds pour down the rain, it suggest that this is beyond our control. We can refuse to plant and refuse to reap, if we constantly wait for a cloudless day. Who has not quickly picked beans, dug potatoes, or pulled corn before the rain?
Clouds are used of hypocritical claims. One of the most humbling proverbs of Solomon is “whoever falsely boasts of giving is like clouds and wind without rain” (Proverbs 25:14, NKJV emp. added). “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give” (25:14, ESV emp. added). At times clouds and wind suggest the approaching of a coming rain, but when the clouds pass they fail to produce or give rain. When one falsely claims and/or boasts of having been charitable by giving gifts, regardless of the kind of gift, he is hypocritical and sinful. It is hypocritical in the eyes of others and harmful if the gift was needed by the one to whom it was promised. It is sinful in the sight of God. Ananias and Sapphira serve as an example of Proverbs 25:14. They claimed to have given all the sale price to the apostles for the word and good of the church; however, they “kept back part of the price” (Acts 5:2). Jude describes false teachers as “clouds that are without water” (Jude 12). Their teaching promises much; however, in reality, all false teachers produce nothing but sorrow, shame, and sin.
Clouds are used of pending misfortune. A passage of Scripture often quoted from Solomon, but often without completing his thought is: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2, emp. added). “Evil days” suggests sin, affliction, and difficulty in our lives. “Years draw nigh” suggests periods of time devoid of the normal enjoyments of life. One trouble follows another in life. As we age, finally the clouds arrive and are indications of trouble, perhaps referring to the physical difficulties of old age or the judgment. Perhaps, it refers to both. When Jeremiah exhorted Judah to repent, he used the imagery of clouds to show the coming misfortune. “Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! For we are spoiled” (Jeremiah 4:13, emp. added).
Clouds and the Presence of God
When God delivered Israel from Egypt, His presence was with them. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them along the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night” (Exodus 13:21, emp. added; cf. Psalm 105:38-39). Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea is described as “our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2, emp. added). “Behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10, emp. added). God’s presence is described as One who defended, provided, and protected Israel. Three months later, and having been led to Sinai, God’s presence on Mount Sinai is described as “thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount” (Exodus 19:16, emp. added). Accompanying God’s presence on the Sinai cloud was thunders and lightnings . . . voice of a trumpet . . . smoke . . . mount quaked greatly . . . by a voice [God’s]” (Exodus 19:16, 18-19). Emphasized is God’s presence, power, holiness, and awesomeness. The terms call for reverence of the people toward God and warned Moses, “charge the people lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21).
Leviticus 10:1-2 records the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron the high priest. They died because they offered strange fire before the Lord; i.e. fire that was unauthorized by God, or that “which he [God] commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1). Connected to this incident is God’s instruction to the high priests when entering the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies, of the Tabernacle. “And the Lord said unto Moses, speak unto Aaron they brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I will appear in a cloud upon the mercy seat” (Leviticus 16:2, emp. added). The high priests were limited to twice on one day (Day of Atonement) once a year to enter the Most Holy Place. First, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest took the blood of a bullock as “the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house” (Leviticus 16:6, 11). Second, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest took the blood of a goat to “make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins” (Leviticus 16:16-19).
In the New Testament the imagery of the cloud is connected to the presence of God. For instance, the presence of God is clearly evident on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus on the mount. As Jesus, Moses, and Elijah conversed in the presence of Peter, James, and John, “a bright cloud overshadowed them; and beheld a voice out of the cloud, which said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him” (Matthew 17:5, emp. added; Mark 9:7). May we all hear Him!
Cloud Imagery, and God and Christ
Elihu points that God spread the clouds over Earth to operate His hydrologic cycle (Job 36:27-33). He then asks Job if he understood the clouds and God’s control of them (Job 37:14-17). Of course, Job did not, neither did Elihu, nor do we understand God’s control of them. The Bible is replete with cloud imagery concerning God and Christ.
God asked Job, “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover you? . . . Who can number the clouds in wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven?” (Job 38:34, 37, emp. added). Isaiah pictures God, as the Most High “above the clouds” (Isaiah 14:14, emp. added) and God treading the clouds under His feet (cf. Psalm 97:2; 104:3).
The Bible pictures God as the Divine Warrior. The Psalmist writes, “[W]ho makes the clouds his chariot” (Psalm 104:3, emp. added), thereby picturing God as mounted on a royal chariot overseeing, defending, providing, and protecting Earth and its inhabitants. In describing God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt to Sinai, David writes some of the actions of God as “His pavilion round about Him were dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies” (Psalm 18:7-15, emp. added; cf. 2 Samuel 22:8-16).
The Old Testament prophets continue the picture of God as the Divine Warrior using imagery of the cloud. In describing His actions against Nineveh and the wicked nation of Assyria, the prophet Nahum said, “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3, emp. added). We must never forget, God is the Creator of all things in Heaven and Earth (Genesis 1:1) and controls the universe (Psalm 104:2-3). In the Old Testament, everything was at the disposal of God—clouds, rain, sea, rivers, fire, animals, land, nations, angels, man, etc. The use of the cloud imagery to describe God as the Divine Warrior and Controller of the universe is seen in Isaiah 29:6: “You will be punished by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm [clouds] and tempest and the flame of devouring fire.” It is no wonder Nahum asked “Who can stand before His indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of His anger?” (1:6).
The New Testament pictures Jesus as the Divine Warrior. In Revelation, Jesus is seen on “a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man; having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle” (14:14, amp. added). When Jesus ascended into Heaven He did so behind a cloud (Acts 1:9). When Jesus returns He will “come with clouds” (Revelation 1:7, emp. added; Acts 1:11), “and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b-18).
W. Terry Varner
General Editor - Sufficient Evidence