Some clouds are lovely, but in general they do not carry a positive association. Dreary days, rain, and cooler weather are what I associate with clouds, and I would prefer beautiful sunny days. If I lived in a desert where there was no relief from the sun, I might think differently.
While reading my Bible yesterday, I noticed that Solomon said that the Lord would dwell in a dark cloud, and that got me thinking. Here’s what he said:
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 his temple.
Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever. 1 Kings 8:10-13
I looked up references to clouds in the Bible, and there are a number of them starting in Genesis when God gave Noah and his family a rainbow and promised never to flood the earth again.
I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Genesis 9:13-15
Of course, God also led and protected the Israelites in the desert in the exodus.
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22
When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the law the mountain was cloud covered representing the glory of the Lord. Isaiah speaks of a cloud of smoke by day as a canopy, a shelter, shade from the heat, and a hiding place from the storm. Interestingly, the book of Job contains more references to clouds than any other book of the Bible except Exodus. Clouds are all over the place in the Bible.
In the New Testament clouds are not mentioned much. Jesus’s transfiguration…
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. Matthew 17:4-6
…and Jesus’s return in the clouds all appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30
Clouds appear a few other times in the New Testament, most noteworthy as evidence of God in Revelation. There is a consistent application of clouds to God’s presence all the way from Genesis to Revelation.
So, I ask myself, how else could God have shown himself to Israel in the desert? What other manifestation could he have chosen to impress upon them the holiness of his temple when Solomon dedicated it? Is there a different way that Jesus could return? Fire? Light? A vision? Those all seem far more dramatic and remarkable than a cloud, droplets of water. God did use fire, bright light and visions to speak to some of his people, but with nowhere near the regularity of clouds.
It’s just like God to use an ordinary cloud to communicate his extraordinary presence.
Clouds are everyday conditions. They are not usually remarkable, and we see them all the time. In the Old Testament the Israelites needed assurance that God was actually with them. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling them like we do today, and a cloud was an ordinary reminder, evidence, that God was present, protecting them, and leading them.
God’s presence is an everyday condition.
God promised to put a rainbow in the clouds. He comes in clouds, yes, and sometimes they represent difficulties in our lives, but he also promised to be with us at all times and to guide and protect us through the challenges that overwhelm us. The rainbow of hope is that he loves us and he is with us.
How have you experienced God in ordinary, cloud like, ways?