The Clouds of God

The Clouds of God

The Clouds of God.

Clouds are natural, and they are also supernatural. They are physical, and they are also spiritual, if you read the right books. Clouds have been scientifically described as a visible mass of particles of condensed water vapor suspended in the atmosphere. Throughout biblical history, though, clouds have profound spiritual meaning. Certain clouds have been consistently experienced as a visible manifestation of God’s presence. Clouds have appeared on earth with the special intent of declaring and revealing God’s presence. Clouds in the sky are a part of nature and commonplace. Clouds on the earth are supernatural and extraordinary.

Natural clouds can be seen as a bane or a blessing. In the blistering desert, a cloud provides a welcome shade from the scorching heat. Clouds can also produce rain, which is needed to nurture the growth of plants and animals. But clouds can be a troublesome presence by the way it hides the sun. How can we enjoy the bright sunshine on a cloudy day? When we are beset with difficulties, we say we are having a few clouds in our life. Just as with natural clouds, we know that clouds of difficulties are only temporary when blocking the sun of blessing. But we also know that the sun is still shining behind the clouds. The clouds didn’t snuff out the sun, it merely blocks the sun for a little time. Occasional dark times do not lessen the strength of the sun’s power and effectiveness behind the scenes. It doesn’t decrease the sun’s brightness behind the clouds. It takes faith to believe the light still shines behind the darkness. God still radiates mercy behind the difficult situation. As it turns out, the clouds of life are only a temporary smoke screen of God’s grace, which is exerting itself in ways we don’t comprehend. It’s easy to acquire a spiritual version of Seasonal Affect Disorder, what with a steady presence of cloudy days. Keep the Faith. The sun is still shining behind the clouds.

As opposed to being a sign of life’s difficulties, clouds in Scripture are a sign of God’s divine presence. The clouds were intended to bless believers in many ways for interesting reasons:

For Protection. When the Egyptian army was chasing down the fleeing Hebrews, God positioned the cloud between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The cloud thus protected the Hebrews all night while the Red Sea winds were churning to provide a means of escape. It seems that half the cloud was lit by fire while the other half was in complete darkness. (Ex. 14:19-20). Later in Scripture, in a fascinating vision, Isaiah saw the holy city of Zion with a canopy of thick cloud covering over the city. “It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.” (Is. 4:5-6). Indeed, the Lord watches over us, and His presence is our “shade at our right hand.” (Ps. 121:4-5). God’s cloud provides protection.

For Direction. Where would the wandering Israelites have been without God guiding them with the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night? They would have been hopelessly lost, and they wouldn’t have been able to follow God’s guidance on their journey. “On the day the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. That is how it continued to be: the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like a fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped” (Numbers 9). The cloud would sometimes stay in one place for only a night, and other times for months. God commanded the cloud to stay put or set out, and the Israelites obeyed the cloud’s movements. This pillar of cloud, with them ever since the Red Sea, was guiding the Hebrews throughout their 40-year journey. God’s cloud provided direction.

For Inspiration. The cloud manifested God’s presence, and sometimes there was nothing one could do but worship. Before the Tabernacle was built, Moses pitched a tent outside the Israelite camp and called it the Tent of Meeting. “As Moses went into the Tent the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the Tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his own tent.” (Ex. 33:9-10). When the Tabernacle was finally completed, “The cloud covered the Tabernacle, and glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” (Ex. 40:34-35). The Glory-Cloud also appeared at Solomon’s dedication of the new Temple. “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the Temple. Then Solomon said, ‘the Lord has said that He would dwell in a thick cloud.’ “(1 Kings 8:10-12). And by settling the cloud of His presence over the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, God inspired everyone to think first of God as a Divine Person of mercy, grace and compassion (Lev. 16:2). God’s cloud provided inspiration.

For Communication. The cloud of God’s presence was a gift to anyone wishing to communicate with the awesome and mysterious Yahweh God. Moses was the hand-picked person to communicate with the Lord through the cloud. In Exodus 24, “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai. For six days, the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights.” (Ex. 24:15-18). Soon after pitching his Tent of Meeting, Moses would enter the cloud at the Tent. And, “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with a friend.” (Ex. 33:11). Finally, the cloud was present in one of the central texts in all the Hebrew Bible. Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to see God’s glory. “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with Moses and proclaimed His name, Yahweh. And God passed in front of Moses, declaring ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and faithfulness, maintaining mercy to the thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.‘” (Ex. 34:5-7). Moses could do nothing but reflexively bow to the ground. The Almighty God, Yahweh, has proclaimed His character in a private moment with Moses while in God’s cloud. Could anything be more sublime or profound? God’s cloud provided communication.

The cloud of God’s presence didn’t end with the Hebrew Bible. There are three incidents when Jesus meets with the cloud of God:

The Transfiguration. During the time on Mt. Tabor, with Peter, James and John, Jesus transformed into a heavenly, dazzling, light-filled appearance. While this was occurring, “a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to Him.’” (Matt. 17:5). This dramatic appearance of God the Father speaking in a cloud brings to mind the long conversations between Yahweh and Moses. Jesus is the new, heaven-sent Moses, the prophesied Teacher who will bring truth and light to the people sitting darkness.

The Ascension. The time for Jesus to return to the Father has come. He will now represent and embody all of humanity to the Father, and will continue to intercede for us until His return. Toward the end of His time on earth, He spoke to the disciples about the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit. “After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9). This appearance of the cloud with Jesus was long ago prophesied in Daniel 7:13: “There before me was one like a son of man, coming with clouds of heaven.” With the Ascension, Bible versions offer that He disappeared in a cloud, a cloud received and carried Him away, He was taken up into a cloud, or a cloud came under Him and took Him up. Any way you look at it, the cloud of God from heaven once again made an appearance. And the Son of God rode the cloud to heaven to be at God’s right hand in glory.  Jesus, the cloud-rider.

The Return. As was said at the Ascension, Jesus will reverse that order when He returns for the Second Coming. He will appear from out of a cloud and come down into everyone’s visible presence where we can see Him. Luke states that Jesus will descend to us “surrounded with a cloud, with great power and miracles, in the radiance of His splendor and with great glory.” (Luke 21:27). Mark quotes Jesus as saying that “They will see the Son of Man appearing in the midst of clouds and revealed with mighty power and great glory.” (Mark 13:26). Jesus ascended in a cloud, and He will return in the cloud on that glorious day.

Is it any wonder that God is called the Rider of the Clouds in Ps. 68:4 and Isaiah 19:1? Or that Nahum said “the clouds are the dust of His feet.” (Nahum 1:3). Throughout history, clouds were visible signs of God’s presence. The cloud of heaven has floated by way of the wind of the Holy Spirit for all of biblical history, representing God’s transcendent majesty and unfathomable mystery.