|Photo by Laurie Collett 2017|
As I sit looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, I am thankful for this amazing opportunity to witness God’s handiwork and creativity through the ever changing landscape He paints (Psalm 19:1). And yet I am a little disappointed that the clouds are hiding the sun and its warmth, threatening to rain and keeping us from walking the beach.
Yet without clouds there would be no life-giving rain. God designed the water cycle to nourish the soil with water that is desalinated and purified as it evaporates from the oceans, then is stored in the clouds as vapor until it precipitates as rain showering the earth (Job 36:27-28; Ecclesiastes 11:3).
During times of drought, even the tiniest cloud is cause for great hope (1 Kings 18:44). In response to our prayers, the Lord makes bright clouds, yielding showers of rain to water the plants so that all are fed (Zechariah 10:1). He delights in giving us showers of blessings (Ezekiel 34:26), and His rain falls on the unjust as well as on the just (Matthew 5:45).
Before the global flood in Noah’s day (Genesis 7:4-10) there was no rain. God had created the firmament, or dome of the skies, to separate the waters over the earth, presumably a type of cloud, from the waters under the earth (Genesis 1:6-8). He watered the ground with a mist arising from the earth, perhaps condensing from a low-lying cloud that may have been barely visible (Genesis 2:5-6).
After the flood, God promised never again to destroy the earth by water. He set the sign of the rainbow in the cloud as a token of His everlasting covenant (Genesis 9:13-16). Without clouds we could not see the rainbow, and there would be no breathtaking sunsets, because the solar rays refract off the moisture droplets acting as prisms, separating white light into vibrant jewel tones of topaz, emerald, sapphire, amethyst, and ruby.
The variety of cloud textures, from the feathery cirrus, to the fluffy cumulus, to the towering nimbus, sparks our imagination as we imagine dioramas against the blue daytime sky, and provides the perfect canvas for God to color a unique masterpiece at sunset.
Without clouds, we cannot fully appreciate all the beauty and variety of sunlight. Without clouds overshadowing our life at times, I also believe we cannot fully appreciate the glory and majesty of God’s Son (1 Chronicles 29:11; Job 40:10; Psalm 21:5; 45:3; Jude 1:25). Once we have been saved by His grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we can experience the joy of salvation (Psalm 21:1; 35:9).
Because of the curse of sin (Genesis 3:16-24), however, we continue to experience trials even after, and sometimes especially after, we are saved (Job 14:1). Scripture often describes these troubles using the metaphor of clouds, referring to war and captivity (Ezekiel 30:3,18) or to deception by false prophets (Ezekiel 34:12). Actual clouds may be instruments of God’s judgment when He withholds His light from wicked nations (Ezekiel 32:7).
Clouds come and go, formations often vanishing as quickly as they appeared. Sometimes it seems that our intentions to follow God are as transient as a morning cloud, evaporating like the dew in the heat of the sun (Hosea 6:4).
When our hearts are not right with God, we may even perceive that He covers Himself with a cloud to prevent our prayers from passing through (Lamentations 3:44). If we persist in sin and idolatry, He may allow Satan to end our life (1 Corinthians 5:5), which shall then pass away as quickly as the morning cloud and early dew (Hosea 13:3), for our life is but a vapor (James 4:14).
In our darkest moments, may we instead draw closest to Him. Then His healing light (John 1:9), which seems even brighter in contrast to the foreboding clouds around us, will revive us (Psalm 85:6). No matter how severe the storms (Mark 4:39), He fills us with the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Our sin nature (Romans 5:12), even once we are saved, prevents us from witnessing His full brilliance, for no man can see God and live (Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22). Scripture often describes this veiling of God’s holiness from our mortal eyes as a cloud covering His glory. As the Hebrews traveled through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land, the Shekinah Glory, or glory of God, led them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
Hidden in a cloudy pillar, God appeared to Moses (Exodus 33:9-10), and He led and protected them in this form (Exodus 14:19-24). His glory shone through a cloud (Exodus 16:10) and He conversed with Moses through a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9; 24:15-18). Only when a cloud covered the tent of the congregation did the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38).
When Moses asked for a better view of God, He hid him in the cleft of a rock, veiling Himself in clouds, and allowing him only a glimpse from behind as He quickly passed by (Exodus 33: 21-23). God pronounced the Ten Commandments to His people out of the midst of fire, clouds, and thick darkness before He wrote them on stone tablets and gave them to Moses (Deuteronomy 5:22).
The pattern of God’s presence in a cloud continued in the cloud of incense that was to cover the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:2,13); when He summoned Aaron and Miriam to judge them regarding their sins of pride and prejudice (Numbers 12:5-10); and in the Lord’s house in response to the people praising and worshiping Him (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).
Job spoke of God’s great power, for He could wrap up all the waters in the clouds without tearing them and spread the clouds upon His throne (Job 26:8-9), He can use the clouds to cover the light (Job 36:32), to bring forth rain, to allow the light to shine through them, and to balance them in all their roles (Job 37:11,15,16).
King David’s song of praise to God for delivering him from his enemies describes God as making “darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies,” providing a stunning contrast to the brightness radiating before Him, so intense that it set coals ablaze (2 Samuel 22:12-13; Psalm 18:11).
Small wonder that God’s faithfulness, truth and strength ascend into the clouds (Psalm 36:5; 57:10; 68:34; 108:4), so that the clouds become as the dust of His feet (Nahum 1:3) or that the clouds are His chariot and covering (Psalm 104:35; 105:39; 147:8). As we shall see next week, Jesus Christ will come again in power and majesty in the clouds.
Until then, may clouds remind us not only of our troubles, but of God’s provision and protection through all our trials, and His ultimate deliverance!