THE WONDER OF CLOUDS
By Glenn Pease
Jean Baptiste Lamarch, the distinguished French naturalist, came from a military family and, at the age of 17 and in keeping with his family's tradition, enlisted in the army. At 21, however, his health failed and he went to Paris for a year of treatment. It was the bleakest time he had ever known. Poor and alone, he lived in a small attic room where he spent days on end, flat on his back.There were no windows in the room. There was only a small sky-light, through which he could watch the clouds drifting overhead. As time passed, though, Lamarch became more and more intrigued by the different cloud formations. Each type, he noticed, was associated with a particular kind of weather. There was the nimbus which heralds a storm, the cumulus which comes at the end of a fine summer afternoon, the cirres which, says that good weather is on its way. When the year was over, Lamarch was an expert on clouds. Military life, he decided, had lost its appeal. He switched to science and fundless though he was at first, went on to become one of the outstanding scientists of his generation.
Most of us do not have our lives changed by watching clouds, but the fact is most of us have had times when watching clouds has had some effect on us. My granddaughter Jenny and I just this past summer were sitting out on the front lawn finding different animals in the clouds as they changed formations, and I watched clouds enough so that every time I see a pretty cloud now I praise the Lord. It has become a habit because I spent enough time dwelling on clouds to make a deep impression on my mind. I can identify with the unknown poet who wrote-
"Oh, it is pleasant, with a heart of ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please,
Or let the easily-persuaded eyes
Own each quaint likeness issuing from the mould
Of a friend's fancy, or with head bent low
And clear as light, see rivers flow of gold
"Twixt crimson banks; and then, a traveller, go
From mount to mount through cloud and gorgeous land."
Probably the most impressive clouds I have ever experienced was when I was a chaplain in the Civil Air Patrol and was taken up in a small plane. When the pilot got above the clouds I could not believe the brightness as the sun reflected off the masses of billowing clouds. It was the brightest experience I have ever had. Miles and miles of brilliant shining clouds. It was awesome, and again enables me to identify with HIGH FLIGHTby John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
I have had some marvelous experiences with clouds, but not until recently did I ever realize how important a place clouds play in the Bible, and in the plan of God. They play a major role in life on this planet, for without clouds there would be no life. They also play a major role in the weather. Man has spent millions of dollars and hours trying to learn all he can about clouds for he knows they hold the secrets to much of what he wants to know. The Bible says much about the role of clouds in weather and this is important to understand, but today we are going to focus on the spiritual values in clouds. Let me just share this one paragraph on the scientific nature of clouds.
What are clouds? Clouds are water. Either small liquid water drops or tiny pieces of ice. Meteorologists rank clouds according to their height and whether or not they are flat or puffy. How are clouds formed? Clouds form when the air rises. As a blob of air rises it expands and gets colder, the colder air cannot hold as much water as warmer air. As the temperature and air pressure continue to drop, tiny water droplets group together into clumps called cloud droplets. At this point, the blob of air becomes a visible cloud. If the cloud keeps going up, the cloud droplets will clump together and form water droplets. These water droplets are too heavy to float in the air and they fall from the sky as either rain or snow.
There are 148 verses in the Bible dealing with clouds, and so it would take most of our time, if not all of it, just to read what the Bible says about them. But I do want to give you a powerful impression of their role, and so I will read a number of verses where clouds are directly connected with God.
GOD'S PRESENCE IN A CLOUD
Nu 11:25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
Nu 12:5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
De 31:15 And the LORD appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle.
Mt 17:5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
Mr 9:7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
Lu 9:34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.
Lu 9:35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST IN THE CLOUDS
Lu 21:27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Mt 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Mt 26:64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Mr 13:26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
Mr 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Re 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
CHRIST SETTING ON THE CLOUD AS HIS THRONE
Re 14:14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
Re 14:15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
Re 14:16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE CLOUDS
Ex 16:10 And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
God used the cloud as a means of conveying His glory. The clouds still do that, for when they are awesome in their beauty and grandeur you cannot help but think of God. Their gigantic size and the beauty of their whiteness convey a glory that is Godlike. Their are many texts that convey this idea.
Ex 40:34 Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Ex 40:35 And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Nu 16:42 And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.
1Ki 8:11 So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.
2Ch 5:14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
Eze 10:4 Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD'S glory.
That was 24 of the 148, but those are enough to give you an impression of the key role clouds play in the Word of God. Then there is the fascinating text we read in Ps.104 about the clouds being God's chariot. Ps 104:3 "Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind." This is not the only place this idea is conveyed. In Isa. 19:1 we read, "Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." The ancient Hebrews could look at a beautiful swiftly moving cloud and see it as God's chariot. It was a heavenly chariot, and was more like a space ship to them. They saw God's presence in nature more than we do, and they could see more than just animal shapes in the clouds, they could see God. If you look at a great billowing cloud sometimes you can see huge faces form, and no doubt, they sometimes felt they were looking at the face of God in the clouds.
The Jews of the Old Testament days saw more in clouds than we ever do in our culture.In Jewish legend clouds hovered around Adam and Eve until they sinned and then the clouds left and they were naked. In Job 38:8-11 we see the clouds are the clothing of the sea. "As the child is wrapped in swaddling clothes, so the sea was wrapped in the clouds." In so many ways they saw the presence of God in nature in clouds. They are heavenly things, and so it makes sense that they would associate the clouds with God.
In the Cyclopadiea Of Theological Literature we read, "As in such climates clouds refreshing veil the oppressive glories of the sun, clouds often symbolize the Divine presence, as indicating the splendor, insupportable to man, of that glory which they wholly or partially conceal.... the shelter given, the refreshment of rain promised by clouds, give them their peculiar prominence in Oriental imagery, and the individual cloud in that ordinarily cloudless region becomes well defined, and is dwelt upon like the individual tree in the bare landscape." "Being the least substantial of visible forms, undefined in shape, and unrestrained in position, it is the one among material things which most easily suggests spiritual being."
Randall Otto in his book, Coming In the Clouds writes, "The very nature of a cloud makes it an almost ideal vehicle for the introduction of the super natural appearances or as a veil between things spiritual and invisible and things physical and visible, a symbol of the Divine presence itself. He says, " Among the Jews the Messiah was known as "the cloudy one" or "the son of a cloud."
Otto's whole book is to show that God used the clouds to both reveal Himself, and to conceal Himself. No one could ever see God and live, and so God made His presence known, and His invisibility visible, by means of clouds. If God ever came into our human presence without being clothed in clouds we would be burnt to a crisp instantly, as if we were thrust into the immediate presence of the sun. Clouds then are the clothing God wears so as to keep men from being destroyed by His presence. He writes, " Jesus became the tabernacle of God. God came down to dwell with men and in him was the Shekinah glory of God veiled in flesh. The body of Jesus was what the cloud was in the O.T. It covered the glory of God in Jesus so men could look on him and live. The fullness of God was in him and if it was seen it would destroy all who saw it. Otto's whole theme is no man has ever seen the glory of God unveiled and never can for it is too intense for man to see and live. Even in Jesus it had to be covered by flesh or a cloud when he ascended."
One of the last things we will see on earth will be the coming of our Lord in the glory of the clouds. They will be the most brilliant and glorious clouds we have ever seen. The hymn writer wrote,
LO! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,Swell the triumph of his train:
Hallelujah!God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold him Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,Pierced and nailed him to the tree,Deeply wailing,Shall the true Messiah see.
The dear tokens of his passion Still his dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultationTo his ransomed worshipers;
With what rapture Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore thee,High on thy eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,Claim the kingdom for thine own;
Jehovah,Everlasting God, come down!
Those who have been to Israel and seen the clouds there get a better idea of what the Biblical references to clouds signify. For example, Ps. 139 begins, "If I rise on the wings of the dawn," and James Neil comments on this phrase, "This figure to a Western is not a little obscure. For my part, I cannot doubt that we are to understand certain beautiful light clouds as thus poetically described. I have observed invariably, that in the late spring-time, in summer, and yet more especially in the autumn, white clouds are to be seen in Palestine. They only occur at the earliest hours of morning, just previously to and at the time of sunrise. It is the total absence of clouds at all other parts of the day, except during the short period of winter rains, that lends such striking solemnity and force to those descriptions of the Second Advent where our Lord is represented as coming in the clouds. This feature of His majesty loses all its meaning in lands like ours, in which clouds are of such common occurrence that they are rarely absent from the sky. The morning clouds of summer and autumn are always of a brilliant silvery white, save at such times as they are dyed with the delicate opal tints of dawn. They hang low upon the mountains of Juda, and produce effects of indescribable beauty, as they float far down in the valley's, or to rise to wrap themselves around the summit of the hills. In almost every instance, by about seven o' clock the heat has dissipated these fleecy clouds, and to the vivid Eastern imagination morn has folded her outstretched wings."
Another gives testimony of how the clouds give her aid and comfort in the present. She writes, "From the breezy heights of beulah Hill we command a lovely and uninterrupted view, not of the fair earth merely, but of the fairer firmament above it; our windows are observatories whence many a longing, loving glance is cast heavenwards, and one of the chief pleasures of restful or contemplative hours is found in silently watching the ever changing aspect of the sky, and noting the manifold glories of that wonderful cloud-land which divides our earthly home from the promised inheritance on high. I never tire of gazing on the beautiful mysteries of the clouds. I love to watch the grand and solemn rolling of black and rugged masses, when storms are abroad, and the wind is marshaling them to a dread convention of brooding tempests; and equally well I love to see them when, in summer days, the cloudlets float like flakes of driven snow across the deep blue ether, and lose themselves at the feet of mountains that rival the Alpine peaks in beauty and sublimity. Sometimes the watcher will see a cloud of such celestial beauty that to his enamored fancy it looks
"'As though an angel, in his upward flight,
Had left his mantle floating in mid-air.
Or anon, with pensive pleasure, he may mark
'Clouds on the western side
Grow grey and greyer, hiding the warm sun.'"
But under all aspects they are enchanting and suggestive; their very movements are restful to my spirit; they always speak to me of the Lord's great power and love, and many a time have burdens of care been lifted from my heart, and carried away, by these celestial chariots, 'as far as the east is from the west.' "
In other words, there can be practical spiritual value in watching clouds if we see what the Bible writers saw in them, the very presence of God, and the visible means of conveying his invisible power and majesty. Every cloud would indeed have a silver lining if we could see the presence of God in it. When I can most see this is when the clouds have large spaces between them and the sun's rays are streaming down through them. The sight makes me feel the presence of God on His throne and I praise Him for His glory and majesty. The silver lining is conspicuous then. But the unknown poet writes,
"The inner side of every cloud
Is bright and shining;
I therefore turn my clouds about,
And always wear them inside out,
To show the lining."
The fact is above the clouds the sun is always shining and so no matter how dark the clouds look from the earth, they are bright on the highest level. The value of studying clouds is that it gives you another way to be made aware of the presence of God in everyday life. As I go about my business, I suddenly look up and see a beautiful cloud and I praise God for His presence, love, and guidance. I never did this until I studied clouds and saw their importance to God and His plan both for the secular world and the sacred goal of eternal life. It may not have this effect on you just hearing a sermon on clouds, but I pray it does, for it adds a positive dimension to your life. I was waiting at Como park this summer for the grand kids to come out of the Conservatory and as I sat looking up into the clouds I decided to pull out a piece of paper and write down my feelings about them. It is not great poetry, but it is great to have poetry in you about clouds because the represent God's presence. I wrote,
OH CLOUDS SO WHITE
FROM SUN SO BRIGHT
OH WHAT A SIGHT!
YOU CHANGE SO FAST
NEW IMAGES CAST
OF PRESENT AND PAST,
BUT NONE CAN LAST.
YOU COME AND GO
SWIFT AS SPRING TIME SNOW,
BUT WHAT A SHOW
AS YOU SO QUICKLY FLOW.
YOU PAINT THE SKY
AS THROUGH IT YOU FLY,
SOME LOW, SOME HIGH
WHICH MAKES ME CRY!
SOFT AS A DOVE
MY HEART YOU SHOVE
TO PRAISE GOD ABOVE
FOR CLOUDS TO LOVE.
I trust you will come to love clouds too, and be able to see in them the visible symbols of the invisible presence of God, for then you will enter into the wonder of the clouds.