A visible mass of particles, usually water or ice, suspended high in the air. The principal Hebrew word for “cloud” is ʽa·nanʹ, the majority of its occurrences referring to the pillar of “cloud” that led the Israelites through the desert wilderness. (Ex 13:21) A “film of dust,” “clouds,” “cloudy skies,” and the “skies” are denoted by forms of the Hebrew shaʹchaq, from a root meaning “pound fine; rub away.” (Isa 40:15; Ps 36:5; Jer 51:9; Ps 89:37; Ps 18:42; Job 14:19) The Greek words denoting a “cloud” are neʹphos and ne·pheʹle, whereas gnoʹphos refers to a “dark cloud.”—Heb 12:1; Mt 17:5; Heb 12:18.
In Israel, from mid-June until mid-September, the skies are generally clear, with the exception of dust clouds, which appear especially toward the end of the dry season, because of the hot E wind from the desert. Also, particularly in August, there are occasional cirrostratus clouds from the W that do not bring rain. Even these are welcomed by the inhabitants, for they afford some shadow and thus slight relief from the heat. (Isa 25:5; compare Job 7:2.) In September or October clouds begin to appear more frequently on the western horizon, forming over the Mediterranean, although it is often mid-October before the rainy season really begins. But during the summer there is, in some sections of the country, a mist cloud in the mornings that vanishes soon with the rising of the sun.—Ho 6:4.
During the rainy season, a storm can come up very quickly, starting with a very small cloud in the W. (1Ki 18:44, 45) The hopes of the farmer would be raised by a cloud rising in western parts. (Lu 12:54) However, one hesitating to reap because of looking at the uncertain clouds would lose out. This fact is used as an admonition to God’s servants to go ahead with their work under all conditions.—Ec 11:4.
The wisdom and mightiness of Jehovah God the Creator are represented in his control over the clouds. He speaks of them as “water jars” that tip over and empty their contents on the earth. He says: “Who can exactly number the clouds in wisdom, or the water jars of heaven—who can tip them over?” (Job 38:37) He describes the process of evaporation and condensation, saying: “He draws up the drops of water; they filter as rain for his mist, so that the clouds trickle, they drip upon mankind abundantly. Indeed, who can understand the cloud layers, the crashings from his booth?”—Job 36:27-29.
Illustrative Usage. Jehovah, whom no man can see and yet live, symbolizes his presence by a cloud. At Mount Sinai, at the time of giving the Law to Israel, a dark cloud covered the mountain; out of the cloud came lightnings and thunder, the blare of a trumpet, and a loud voice. (Ex 19:16-19; 24:15; Heb 12:18, 19) Jehovah told Moses that he appeared in this manner in order that he might speak to Moses and that, on hearing it, the people might put faith in Moses as God’s representative.—Ex 19:9.
Jehovah sent an angel in a cloud as “his own personal messenger” to lead Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness. (Isa 63:9) By means of the angel, Jehovah representatively looked out of the cloud to throw the camp of the Egyptians into confusion. (Ex 13:21, 22; 14:19, 24, 25) Jehovah also used the cloud to baptize them as a nation into Moses, the waters being at the sides of them and the cloud above and behind. Thus they were “baptized into Moses by means of the cloud and of the sea.”—1Co 10:2; see also Nu 14:14.
When the tabernacle was set up in the wilderness, the cloud resided over it and “Jehovah’s glory filled the tabernacle,” so that Moses was unable to enter. (Ex 40:34, 35; compare 1Ki 8:10-12; Re 15:8.) After this the cloud stood over the Most Holy, in which was the ark of the covenant, and the cloud became a pillar of fire at night. Doubtless this cloud was visible from any part of the camp, marking the camp’s center. When it rose, Israel prepared to break camp. When it moved, they followed its direction to the next camping place, although the exact site to set up the camp may have been selected with the help of Hobab, who had a good knowledge of the land, including watering places and other features necessary to a camp of such tremendous proportions.—Ex 40:34-38; Nu 10:29-32.
Inside the Most Holy, over the ark of the covenant, was a cloud that was very brilliant, the only light to illuminate that compartment. (Le 16:2) In post-Biblical Hebrew, it was called the Shechinah. When the high priest went into the Most Holy on Atonement Day with the blood of animals, he was symbolically standing in the presence of Jehovah. At other times, when he did not go into the Most Holy but stood before the curtain to present a matter of importance to Jehovah for his answer, he was considered as standing before Jehovah.—Nu 27:21.
In one instance Jehovah’s own voice was heard out of a bright cloud, expressing approval of his only-begotten Son. This was the brilliant cloud overshadowing Jesus and his three apostles Peter, James, and John on the mount of the transfiguration.—Mt 17:5.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, according to the record, “a cloud caught him up from their vision.” (Ac 1:9) The disciples did not see Jesus riding away on a cloud, but rather, the cloud obscured their vision of him. This helps us to understand Jesus’ words concerning his presence: “They will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” and Revelation’s statement: “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” (Lu 21:27; Mt 24:30; Re 1:7) In past cases clouds represented invisible presence; but observers could “see” the meaning with their mental “eyes.” In this case the physical occurrences that are visible would cause the one looking to “see” or realize that Christ is invisibly present.—See also Mt 24; Mr 13; Re 14:14.
When Jesus came to earth, with all the identifications of the Messiah, the Jews selfishly refused to acknowledge him because they demanded as a proof of his Messiahship that he literally fulfill the vision at Daniel 7:13, 14, where the Son of man is shown coming with the clouds of the heavens before the Ancient of Days, Jehovah God, to receive his kingdom. They confused his presence in Kingdom power with his first coming. He told them that no such sign would be given them.—Lu 11:29.
Favor. “Clouds” have a good connotation toward those who please God. Proverbs 16:15 says that the king’s goodwill is “like the cloud of spring rain.” A cloud’s effect of covering or hiding from visibility is used to describe Jehovah’s action toward the sins of his people, wiping their transgressions out “just as with a cloud.” (Isa 44:22) Conversely, he blocks the approach of those who are rebellious as with a cloud mass, that their prayer may not pass through.—La 3:44.
Transitoriness, unreliableness. The misty morning clouds that quickly vanish away are used figuratively for the fickle, short-lived loving-kindness of Ephraim and Judah toward God, as well as for the short-livedness Ephraim would experience for turning to false worship.—Ho 6:4; 13:3.
The man who boasts about giving, but who never does so, is as disappointing as a cloud with no rain. (Pr 25:14) Those who are professed Christians but who carry on immorality, practicing corruption and contaminating the congregation, are likened, in their avid following of fleshly desires, to waterless clouds tossed by winds.—Jude 12; see MIST.