A song from Elevation Worship contains the words, “There is a cloud, beginning to swell.” The lyrics exude vibrancy and warmth. It’s a nice enough song, but I find it hard to relate to. Perhaps it’s my deep-rooted pessimism or the understanding that “dry seasons” and seeds “buried in sorrow” may remain that way for a long, long time, sometimes a lifetime.
Then again, the disconnect might lie in my perspective on clouds. Clouds signify potential, power in check. A swollen cloud on the horizon could herald a gentle rain. It restores the earth, fills the dry cracks, leaves the world smelling crisp and new.
Such a cloud could just as easily pulverize the earth. It could come in power and fury: rapid lightning and booming thunder. The cloud issues forth tornados, wind gusts, and hail. It smashes buildings and cars to bits.
In addition, the words, “There is a cloud beginning to swell,” prompt thoughts about other clouds contained in the Bible. The first one demonstrates God’s guiding presence. The second alludes to his presence but more prominently displays his power and faithfulness to keep promises.
A Cloud to Guide
In Exodus, the Israelites’ wander around the desert for forty years as a result of their ongoing disbelief and rebellion. They are not, however, left on their own. God guides them in the guise of a cloud during the day. At night, he becomes a pillar of fire that guards and gives light to the people (Exodus 13:21-2).
In the New Testament, the cloud and pillar move inside the person. The Holy Spirit guides, guards, and enlightens. That knowledge gives me comfort. Even in my wandering and uncertainty, God knows where I am. He never leaves me lost, alone, or defenseless.
A Cloud of Promise
The Old Testament also contains a narrative about the prophet Elijah, a man who faces off against kings, queens, and the false prophets of Baal. After he calls down fire from heaven — a feat the prophets of Baal can’t accomplish no matter how much they slash and bleed themselves — he tells the king, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower” (1 Kings 18:41).
Elijah doesn’t putter around; he retreats to the top of Mount Carmel with his servant and awaits the promised shower. Seven times he waits, and on the seventh, a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand appears. Elijah hears the news, sends his servant with a warning for the king to get his chariot moving, and sprints away. As the sky blackens and begins to downpour, Elijah races and outpaces the king back to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:45-6).
A Cloud of Truth
Both of these clouds communicate truths about God. The first relates to the blessing of his presence. David writes in the psalms that God, not good circumstances or wealth, brings “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Psalm 106 also deals directly with the Israelites’ rebellion, stating the purpose for God’s continued guidance: “Nevertheless he saved them [the Israelites] for the sake of his name, that he might make his power known” (Psalm 106:8). The idea relates with both Elijah’s cloud, the cloud of fulfilled promise, and believers.
The cloud of God is never for my benefit alone. God uses his presence, power, and promises to make his name all the more glorious. He desires that the whole earth know his name and tremble at the sound of his voice, so he gives clouds, clouds of potential, clouds of comfort, and clouds of power, either reined in or set loose.
Image: D. Reichardt (Creative Commons)