The Old Testament uses eight different Hebrew words in 167 passages to refer to clouds of rain, dust, smoke, storm, and fog. Both meteorological (1 Kings 18:44-45) and metaphorical meanings appear. The latter can be both positive (beneficial to life,
Isaiah 25:5) and negative (hindrance to life,
Ecclesiastes 12:1-2). Clouds symbolize fluidity and transitoriness (Job 30:15;
Hosea 6:4), massive expansion and height (Psalms 36:5;
Ezekiel 38:9,Ezekiel 38:16). More important are the statements in contexts speaking of God.
Old Testament 1. Clouds demonstrate the power of God as Creator. Particularly
Job 36-38 witness to the sovereignty of the Creator, who directs and controls the clouds. Their majestic, unfathomable flight reveals the limits of human knowledge. This applies even to our time with our expanded scientific and meteorological knowledge.
2. The clouds accompany God's revelation. God dwells in the dark clouds (1 Kings 8:12;
Psalms 18:12). When He comes forth from His unapproachable holy being for judgment or for salvation, rain, lightning, and thunder break out from the clouds (Judges 5:4;
Psalms 97:2). When Yahweh appears as a Warrior, the clouds are His battle chariots in which He travels (Psalms 68:34;
Isaiah 19:1) and from which He shoots down the lightning as arrows (Psalms 18:14;
Zechariah 9:14). Dark clouds overshadow the judgment day of Yahweh, which the prophets announced (Ezekiel 30:3,Ezekiel 30:18;
3. Clouds conceal and reveal the secrets of God at the same time. In the tent of revelation during the wilderness period (Exodus 40:34-38), in the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5), and in His direction and protection by means of the clouds and the pillar of fire, Israel experienced that God came to them (Exodus 33:7-11) but still remained wholly other (Leviticus 16:2,Leviticus 16:13) even when he came as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13).
New Testament 1. The strictly meterological meaning appears only in
Luke 12:54. A metaphorical meaning occurs in
2 Peter 2:17,
Hebrews 12:1 (using a distinct Greek word). Clouds are not used in the New Testament to point to the power of God as Creator except for indirect references (Matthew 5:45;
Acts 14:17). All other references to clouds in the New Testament have a relationship to God.
2. The clouds accompany the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. As God on Sinai was glorified and concealed in the clouds, so was Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration and in His ascension to heaven (Mark 9:7;
Acts 1:9). The clouds into which Jesus entered with Moses and Elijah as Moses had once entered on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), are “light” but at the same time concealing. The voice out of the clouds no longer referred to the Torah of Moses but to the teaching of the Son. No longer must a tent be set up to experience the presence of God, for the clouds have set God's presence free to appear in Jesus alone. As the resurrected One was exalted to the Father, the clouds veiled Him.
3. The clouds mark the conclusive and final revelation of the lordship of Christ.
Mark 14:62; and
Revelation 1:7 combined the motif of the Son of Man from
Daniel 7:1 with the word of judgment from
Zechariah 12:10 and referred them to the parousia or coming of Christ. Clouds thus became only signs of the revealing of the lordship and majesty of the Lord; they no longer concealed anything. In
Revelation 14:14-16 the returning Christ sits on “white” (light, shining, majestic) clouds. In this transparent purity both the living and the deceased believers are joined with their Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 the clouds and the sea of the Exodus of Israel form a type of the baptism of Christians which had been falsely understood by the Corinthians.
Thus we see that the word “clouds” in the parabolic language of the Bible makes spiritual contexts clear.