Good morning Father,
Lately I have come across several passages taken from the Bible which I could not understand. Could you explain them to me?
1. Why is God depicted in the form of a cloud or of wind?
184.108.40.206.(omitted by the editorial staff).
I apologize for the disturbance.
Have a good day.
The priest’s answer
1. It has been highlighted that the cloud can represent two religious experiences: the beneficent nearness of God or the punishment of he who hides his face.
And in addition to this, the cloud is the privileged symbol to indicate the divine presence: it reveals God, while veiling Him.
2. In the Old Testament the cloud is the symbol of God’s presence, to show His closeness or instead His reproof to us.
In the book of Exodus we read that God guided his people, venturing into the desert, by means of a cloud: “The Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both day and night. Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people” (Ex. 13:21,22).
It was a single towering column, dark during the day and flaming at night.
3. Through this cloud, God showed His presence in the midst of His people in a visible way.
He also showed them the way forward.
It was a tangible sign of His care towards His people, that He fed everyday with manna and quails and quenched their thirst with water that prodigiously was gushing out of a rock going along the multitude.
4. The cloud moved as it was needed, and it also accompanied the people unceasingly for forty years, thus demonstrating its supernatural origin.
This way the chosen people were not tempted to turn back.
It symbolized the presence of God, who provides for mankind even though He is not seen.
5. At the same time it was a presence that provided protection against enemies.
In fact, we read: “The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp, now moved and went around behind them. The column of cloud also, leaving the front, took up its place behind them,
so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians and that of Israel. But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed without the rival camps coming any closer together all night long”. (Ex 14:19,20).
The Jews could therefore walk on without worries, while the Egyptians were holding back in the gloomiest darkness.
6. Symbol of God’s presence is also the cloud filling the Temple on the occasion of its consecration by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10).
The same cloud that Ezekiel will see leaving the temple, when it is about to be destroyed and the people being deprived of divine assistance and deported to Babylon.
7. Then you ask me about the cloud of wind. Actually there is no such an expression in the Holy Scriptures.
Perhaps you are referring to God’s presence by means of wind.
The wind is called spirit, in hebrew ruah.
I read from the Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology, edited by J. Bauer: “Men in the ancient Near East experienced a reverent awe for the mystery of the wind. For him the wind is equivalent to an overwhelming and mysterious power, which the gentile people honor as a divinity of nature, but which the Israelites, thanks to their superior monotheism, value only as an instrument for putting into effect God’s purposes in salvation history.
The ruah represents a force of nature, of which God avails himself at all critical turning-points in the tempestuous history of salvation for carrying out his plans.
The tempest is able to rend the mountains and shatter the rocks (1 Kings 19:11). At God’s behest it brings an end to the floods (Gen 8:1). At the time of the Egyptian plagues the east wind carried the assembled swarms of locusts into the land of Pharaoh, and the west wind threw them into the sea (Ex 10:13, 19). At the Exodus from bondage a strong east wind provided the people of God, hard-pressed as they were, with a way of safety through the Red Sea (Ex 14:21 – 15:10 and Is 11:15).
David describes, with a high degree of poetic imagination, how the Lord “ bowed the Heavens and came down…He flew hither, hovering upon the wings of the wind. The depths of the sea were seen” (2 Sam 22:10,16 – Ps 18:10,16).
In the wanderings in the wilderness a strong wind drove a host of quails in from the sea, and a rain of manna down from heaven for the hungry people (Num 11:31 – Ex 10:19; 16:13,16 – Ps 78:24). At the covenant institution at Sinai a strong wind, together with the loud blast of a trumpet ushered in the thunder and lightning which were the precursors of the divine Lawgiver” (Ex 19:16 – Acts 2:2f). (Enc. of Bib. Theology, V.3, p.870, by J. Bauer, Pub. London : Sheed and Ward, 1970).
The wind is God’s messenger and like its Creator is not visible, but you feel its effects.
8. Sometimes God no longer blows in an impetuous wind, but whispers in a light breeze, as happened to Elijah: “Then the LORD said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD – but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire – but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound”(1 Kings 19:11-12).
The Bible of Jerusalem notes: Storm, earthquake, fire, which speak of the presence of Jahweh (Ex 19), here they herald His passage, which is surrounded by silence. The translation in its precise rendering is difficult (Elijah hears the voice of silence), but it is clearly a matter of noticing the contrast between this humble passage of God and the terrifying cosmic phenomena that precede Him” (note to 1 Kings 19:12).
The presence of God is hence magnified in the quiet, and precisely this silence revives his prodigies.
This is particularly experienceable in contemplative life.
I wish that you too can be protected everywhere by the cloud of God, and enjoy His presence, particularly in the whispering of a light breeze.
I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you.
translated by Riccardo Mugnaini