What Is the Significance of Clouds in the Bible?

Scripture utilizes clouds to symbolize the presence of God.

The Scriptures everywhere utilize the imagery of clouds to signal the immediate presence of God in time and space. This is one of those biblical-theological themes that has not often been given due consideration. Surprisingly, the Scriptures have much to teach, by way of illustration or allusion, about the symbolic and redemptive-historical significance of clouds.

 

Everyone loves a sunny day, and everyone hates a cloudy day, right? After all, we have a singular medical classification for the negative effects of cloudy days on the human psyche. We tend to speak of the beauty of any given day in relation to how much of the sun and sky we are able to see. However, Scripture encourages us to view the clouds in such a way as to think of the glory and presence of God.

The Scriptures everywhere utilize the imagery of clouds to signal the immediate presence of God in time and space. This is one of those biblical-theological themes that has not often been given due consideration. Surprisingly, the Scriptures have much to teach, by way of illustration or allusion, about the symbolic and redemptive-historical significance of clouds.

God placed his bow in the clouds after Noah and his family stepped off the ark.

The first place where clouds play a prominent role in redemptive history is in the flood narrative. No sooner had Noah and his family stepped off of the Ark than the Lord placed his bow in the clouds—a sacramental reminder of the covenant mercy that he was promising in preparation for the coming Redeemer. Clouds are those created symbols of transcendence and imminence. They reflect both the transcendent glory of the Lord and His imminent approach to us.

The apostle John tells us that there is a rainbow around the throne of Christ (Rev. 4:3). How fitting then, when God promises to give mercy from his covenant throne, that he puts his bow in the clouds, as if to say, “From my majestic and transcendent throne, I will bring my mercy down to you.” The Lord promised in the Noahic covenant,

It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth (Gen. 9:14-16).

God led his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness by means of the pillar of cloud.

When the Lord brought his people out of Egypt in the Exodus, he led them out and through the wilderness for 40 years by means of the pillar of cloud. By this theophany the Lord was promising his people that he would be with them. It is a symbol of his presence and protection. The cloudy pillar shielded God’s people from the blistering sun, as well as kept them hidden from the sight of their enemies. Additionally, it served to teach them that God would lead them by a way that they did not know. As Moses explained,

The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way” (Ex. 13:21; emphasis added).

The people could not see through the pillar of cloud. They would have to trust the Lord and believe that his presence was sufficient to lead them to the place where He was taking them.

The coming of the Lord in the pillar of cloud is the first clear example in Scripture of the Lord using clouds to symbolize His presence. The Psalmist declares, under figurative language, that Jehovah “makes the clouds His chariot” (Ps. 104:3). Nahum tells us that “the clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3). Clouds serve as the best picture in creation of the imminent presence of the transcendent God.

When God came down on Mount Sinai, he did so by means of a cloud.

Clouds continued to play a significant role in the further revelation and theophany at Sinai. When Jehovah came down on the Mount, he did so by means of a cloud. As Moses went up into the mountain to receive covenant revelation from the Lord, “a cloud covered the mountain.” We are told that

…the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud” (Ex. 24:15-16; emphasis added).

Read More