The Hebrew so rendered means "a covering," because clouds cover the sky. The word is used as a symbol of the Divine presence, as indicating the splendour of that glory which it conceals (Ex. 16:10; 33:9; Num. 11:25; 12:5; Job 22:14; Ps. 18:11). A "cloud without rain" is a proverbial saying, denoting a man who does not keep his promise (Prov. 16:15; Isa. 18:4; 25:5; Jude 1:12). A cloud is the figure of that which is transitory (Job 30:15; Hos. 6:4). A bright cloud is the symbolical seat of the Divine presence (Ex.29:42, 43; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chr. 5:14; Ezek. 43:4), and was called the Shechinah (q.v.). Jehovah came down upon Sinai in a cloud (Ex. 19:9); and the cloud filled the court around the tabernacle in the wilderness so that Moses could not enter it (Ex. 40:34, 35). At the dedication of the temple also the cloud "filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10). Thus in like manner when Christ comes the second time he is described as coming "in the clouds" (Matt. 17:5; 24:30; Acts 1:9, 11). False teachers are likened unto clouds carried about with a tempest (2 Pet. 2:17). The infirmities of old age, which come one after another, are compared by Solomon to "clouds returning after the rain" (Eccl. 12:2). The blotting out of sins is like the sudden disappearance of threatening clouds from the sky (Isa. 44:22).
Cloud, the pillar of, was the glory-cloud which indicated God's presence leading the ransomed people through the wilderness (Ex. 13:22; 33:9, 10). This pillar preceded the people as they marched, resting on the ark (Ex. 13:21; 40:36). By night it became a pillar of fire (Num. 9:17-23).
- kloud (`anan, `abh; nephele, nephos):
I. Clouds in Palestine.
In the Bible few references are found of particular clouds or of clouds in connection with the phenomena of the weather conditions. The weather in Palestine is more even and has less variety than that in other lands. It is a long, narrow country with sea on the West and desert on the East. The wind coming from the West is always moist and brings clouds with it. If the temperature over the land is low enough the clouds will be condensed and rain will fall, but if the temperature is high, as in the five months of summer, there can be no rain even though clouds are seen. As a whole the winter is cloudy and the summer clear.
1. Rain Clouds:
In the autumn rain storms often arise suddenly from the sea, and what seems to be a mere haze, "as small as a man's hand," such as Gehazi saw (1 Ki 18:44) over the sea, within a few hours becomes the black storm cloud pouring down torrents of rain (1 Ki 18:45). Fog is almost unknown and there is very seldom an overcast, gloomy day. The west and southwest winds bring rain (Lk 12:54).
2. Disagreeable Clouds:
In the months of April, May and September a hot east wind sometimes rises from the desert and brings with it a cloud of dust which fills the air and penetrates everything. In the summer afternoons, especially in the month of August, on the seacoast there is apt to blow up from the South a considerable number of low cirro-stratus clouds which seem to fill the air with dampness, making more oppressive the dead heat of summer. These are doubtless the detested "clouds without water" mentioned in Jude 1:12, and "heat by the shade of a cloud" (Isa 25:5).
II. Figurative Uses.
1. Yahweh's Presence and Glory:
The metaphoric and symbolic uses of clouds are many, and furnish some of the most powerful figures of Scripture. In the Old Testament, Yahweh's presence is made manifest and His glory shown forth in a cloud. The cloud is usually spoken of as bright and shining, and it could not be fathomed by man: "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through" (Lam 3:44). Yahweh Himself was present in the cloud (Ex 19:9; 24:16; 34:5) and His glory filled the places where the cloud was (Ex 16:10; 40:38; Nu 10:34); "The cloud filled the house of Yahweh" (1 Ki 8:10). In the New Testament we often have "the Son of man coming on" or "with clouds" (Mt 24:30; 26:64; Mk 13:26; 14:62; Lk 21:27) and received up by clouds (Acts 1:9). The glory of the second coming is indicated in Rev 1:7 for "he cometh with the clouds" and "we that are alive .... shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord" and dwell with Him (1 Thess 4:17).
2. Pillar of Cloud:
The pillar of cloud was a symbol of God's guidance and presence to the children of Israel in their journeys to the promised land. The Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud and forsook them not (Neh 9:19). They followed the guidance of this cloud (Ex 40:36; Ps 78:14).
3. Bow in Cloud:
The clouds are spoken of in the Old Testament as the symbol of God's presence and care over His people; and so the "bow in the cloud" (Gen 9:13) is a sign of God's protection.
4. Clouds Blot Out:
As the black cloud covers the sky and blots out the sun from sight, so Yahweh promises "to blot out the sins" of Israel (Isa 44:22); Egypt also shall be conquered, "As for her, a cloud shall cover her" (Ezek 30:18; compare Lam 2:1).
There is usually a wide difference in temperature between day and night in Palestine. The days axe warm and clouds coming from the sea are often completely dissolved in the warm atmosphere over the land. As the temperature falls, the moisture again condenses into dew and mist over the hills and valleys. As the sun rises the "morning cloud" (Hos 6:4) is quickly dispelled and disappears entirely. Job compares the passing of his prosperity to the passing clouds (Job 30:15).
6. God's Omnipotence and Man's Ignorance:
God "bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds" (Job 26:8) and the "clouds are the dust of his feet" (Nah 1:3). Yahweh "commands the clouds that they rain no rain" (Isa 5:6), but as for man, "who can number the clouds?" (Job 38:37); "Can any understand the spreadings of the clouds?" (Job 36:29); "Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?" (Job 37:16). See BALANCINGS. "He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap" (Eccl 11:4), for it is God who controls the clouds and man cannot fathom His wisdom. "Thick clouds are a covering to him" (Job 22:14).
Clouds are the central figure in many visions. Ezekiel beheld "a stormy wind .... out of the north, a great cloud" (Ezek 1:4), and John saw "a white cloud; and on the cloud one sitting" (Rev 14:14). See also Dan 7:13; Rev 10:1; 11:12.
8. The Terrible and Unpleasant:
The cloud is also the symbol of the terrible and of destruction. The day of Yahweh's reckoning is called the "day of clouds" (Ezek 30:3) and a day of "clouds and thick darkness" (Zeph 1:15). The invader is expected to "come up as clouds" (Jer 4:13). Joel (2:2) foretells the coming of locusts as "a day of clouds and thick darkness" which is both literal and figurative. Misfortune and old age are compared to "the cloudy and dark day" (Ezek 34:12) and "the clouds returning after rain" (Eccl 12:2).
9. Various Other Figures:
Clouds are used in connection with various other figures. Rapidity of motion, "these that fly as a cloud" (Isa 60:8). As swaddling clothes of the newborn earth (Job 38:9); indicating great height (Job 20:6) and figurative in Isa 14:14, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds," portraying the self-esteem of Babylon. "A morning without clouds" is the symbol of righteousness and justice (2 Sam 23:4); partial knowledge and hidden glory (Lev 16:2; Acts 1:9; Rev 1:7).
Alfred H. Joy