Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1,201 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Cloud Rider

Psalm 104:1-3

Delivered 01/14/24

Good morning, Bereans. This morning we will be looking at the subject of the Cloud Rider. Why is it important that we understand who the cloud rider is? I have said over and over that we will never be able to understand the New Testament if we aren’t familiar with the Tanakh. All the imagery of the New Testament comes from the Tanakh. Everything taught in the New Testament comes from the Tanakh. The Bible was written in a time far distant from ours and in cultures quite strange to us. So, as we try to discover the author's meaning, we must learn to read his writing as one of his contemporaries would. To do this we must understand the Tanakh as they did. Paul said:

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:  Acts 26:22 ESV

Notice carefully what Paul is saying here. He said that He was, "saying nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said would come to pass." Paul is declaring that everything he is preaching comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, Therefore, if you want to understand Paul or any New Testament writers, you MUST understand the Hebrew Scriptures, in other words, ­the first three quarters of our Bible.

If you are not familiar with the apocalyptic language of the Scriptures, you will not understand much of Christ’s teaching. If you approach the New Testament's apocalyptic language without recognizing it for what it is and do not know how to deal with its tone, images, and symbols, you are sure to go astray.

The Scriptures give us a number of images of Yahweh. One that we see over and over is the imagery of God riding on the clouds. That probably stirs up various images to us. When you hear the term "cloud rider," what comes to mind? Do you think of Yahweh surfing a white puffy cumulus cloud? When you think of Yahweh riding a cloud, I want you to think of it as a black storm cloud—the Cumulonimbus. I want you to think of a black stormy sky, the kind that scares you. Clouds are often associated with strong storms, particularly thunderstorms and hurricanes. We can perceive them as signs of God's power.

Let’s look at some verses that call Yahweh the cloud rider.  

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; Psalms 104:1-3 ESV

"He makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind"—here we see that Yahweh is the cloud rider. What’s important to understand here is that this imagery used of God as the rider of the clouds is a way of showing his superiority. It is one among many examples throughout the Bible of the writer’s taking an image used to describe another deity and attributing it to Yahweh. 

It is interesting that many Scholars see this Psalm as a polemical hymn against Aten, the Egyptian god, or Baal, the Canaanite god. Yahweh’s riding on a cloud is symbolic of his sovereignty.

Some say that Psalm 104 is modeled after an Egyptian hymn to the god Aten. Considering David’s Jewish familiarity with the Egyptian gods, we can conclude that this was written as an argument of sorts to show that Yahweh is sovereign over Aten.

Psalm 104 is about the glory of Yahweh. His kingship, creativity, and compassion for the living are all on display in a hymn that describes the attributes and works of the One "who maketh the clouds his chariot, who walketh on the wings of the wind" (v.3).

Psalm 104 draws from theological ideas similar to those in the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and the flood story in Genesis 6-9.

The hymn to Aten shares with Psalm 104 several common themes, such as the glorification of the Creator of the World, praise of the beauty, and the wisdom and splendor of His creation.

It is not only Aten that is called the cloud rider. We see this same description used of Baal, the Canaanite god.

Since Ugarit is, in literature, Israel's most significant Canaanite neighbor, it becomes a matter of interest when Baal is called repeatedly "the Rider of the Clouds" in his respective texts.

A quote from Michael S. Heiser helps explain its significance:

Israelite religion had an assembly of heavenly host under the authority of Yahweh. This assembly has very close affinities to the pantheons of ancient Near East, particularly in Canaanite religion. The most telling example is the literature from Ras Shamra (Ugarit), discovered in the late 1920s. As a Semitic language, Ugaritic is closely related to biblical Hebrew, sharing a good deal of vocabulary, as well as morphological and syntactical features. Upon their decipherment, many of the Ugaritic tablets were found to contain words and phrases describing a council of gods that are conceptually and linguistically parallel to the Hebrew Bible. The Ugaritic divine council was led by El, the same word used in the Hebrew Bible for deity and as the proper name for the God of Israel (e.g., Is 40:18; 43:12). There are explicit references to a council or assembly of El, in some cases overlapping word for-word with those in the Hebrew Bible.

The ancient Canaanite city-state of Ugarit is of importance for those who study the Hebrew Scriptures. The literature of the city and the theology contained therein go a very long way in helping us to understand the meaning of various biblical passages as well as in aiding us in deciphering difficult Hebrew words.

The Canaanite god, Baal, and the Hebrew God, Yahweh, are both known to be storm deities, but only one of the two deities claims supreme authority over the other and, in the end, stands alone as King of the Universe.

Let’s look at Psalm 68.

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him!  Psalms 68:4 ESV

Compare this to the Christian Standard Bible.

Sing to God! Sing praises to his name. Exalt him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and celebrate before him.  Psalms 68:4 CSB

Notice the discrepancy between "him who rides on the clouds" and "him who rides through the deserts." The first translation comes from the words being translated as a reference to the Arabah, the desert south of the Dead Sea. This is probably how the word should be translated in most contexts. However, here in Psalm 68:4, we can see a clear parallel to an Ugaritic text which describes Baal as "the rider on the clouds." So, this phrase, "rakab arabah," [RAW-kov A-raw-vaw] is likely a known title of Baal. It is used here by the psalmist because the Israelites would have seen Yahweh—not Baal—as the storm god, the one who brings rains to their crops.

According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, "Clouds serve as God's war chariot in the imagination of the OT poets and prophets… This image of the warrior god riding a chariot into battle is an ancient one, antedating the Bible in Canaanite mythology, where Baal is given the frequent epiphet 'ride on the clouds.'" In fact, Baal was the god of the thunderstorm in the Ugaritic pantheon. His cloud riding was appropriate to his function."

The epithet "Cloud Rider" occurs frequently in the Ugaritic texts. For example, Anat responded to an invitation from Baal in The Tale of Aqhat:

What enemy has risen against Baal,

What foe against the Cloud Rider?

The youths speak up and answer:

No enemy has risen against Baal,

No foe against the Cloud rider.

The picture of Yahweh riding on the clouds and across the heavens was a polemical symbol directed against the Canaanite god, Baal. It was a statement of Yahweh’s authority and sovereignty.

We see Yahweh’s superiority over Baal in the showdown they had on Mt. Carmel.

After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, "Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth."  1 Kings 18:1 ESV

They were in the midst of a severe drought and Baal was a fertility god who sent rain.

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word.  1 Kings 18:21 ESV
And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God." And all the people answered, "It is well spoken."  1 Kings 18:24 ESV

So, the prophets of Baal set up the sacrifice and called on him from morning until noon while Elijah mocked them. Nothing happened. Then Elijah called on Yahweh.

Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God." 1 Kings 18:37-39 ESV

Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is the sovereign God.

Back to the cloud imagery. This cloud imagery is indeed an ancient one, and in fact, is as old as the Exodus and the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.  Exodus 13:21 ESV

The cloud represented the presence of Yahweh. During the climactic theophany on Sinai, the mountain was covered by a cloud.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.  Exodus 19:16 ESV

 In the tabernacle, God appeared in the cloud that was present in the Holy of Holies.

and the LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.  Leviticus 16:2 ESV

We learn of the vehicular cloud, however, in the Torah, psalms and prophets.

"There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.  Deuteronomy 33:26 ESV

The word "skies" here is the Hebrew shachaq, which Strong’s defines as "a powder (as beaten small); by analogy a thin vapor." This word is often translated as cloud.

He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. Psalms 18:9-10 ESV

"Thick darkness was under his feet"—is a reference to storm clouds. We see this in 2 Samuel 22.

He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he was seen on the wings of the wind. He made darkness around him his canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water. 2 Samuel 22:10-12 ESV

Then in Nahum, we again see Yahweh riding the clouds.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.  Nahum 1:3 ESV

There are a few more very important passages in the Tanakh dealing with the cloud rider. Any guesses?

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.  Isaiah 19:1 ESV

I believe that this also is polemic. In Ugaritic, Baal's epithet as the storm god was, "He Who Rides on the Clouds." So, when the Hebrews come along and take that title and apply it to Yahweh, they are in essence mocking or belittling Baal. It is Yahweh, not Baal, who rides on the clouds.

In this chapter, God is talking about the judgment that is to fall upon Egypt. The word "oracle" is the Hebrew word massa ("an utterance, chiefly a doom"). We know from chapter 20 that God used the Assyrians as instruments of His wrath on Egypt,

In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— Isaiah 20:1 ESV

Yet it says, "Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud"…, Egypt will tremble at his presence." God came to Egypt in judgment. His presence was made known in judgment. But it was the Assyrians who were literally present. Similar language is used of Nineveh's fall.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:3 ESV
The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. Nahum 1:5-6 ESV

We know that Nineveh was destroyed, not by a literal coming of God out of heaven on the clouds, but by the invading armies of the Chaldeans and Medes in 612 BC.

There is one more passage in the Tanak that we must understand before we move to the New Testament. Anyone know what it is?

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

We know that the Ancient of Days is Yahweh, the God of Israel, because the description of his throne (vss. 9-10) as fiery and having wheels matches that of the vision of Ezekiel 1. Ezekiel’s vision also included a human figure on the throne of God (1:26-27).

Daniel 7 was a crucial passage for the ancient doctrine of two powers in heaven in ancient Judaism prior to Christianity. Judaism eventually declared the two powers doctrine heretical because it was a useful apologetic for the Christian belief in Yeshua as God. See Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven.

The ultimate son of David, the messianic king, will be both human "son of man" and deity "the rider of the clouds." This is exactly what the New Testament teaches. Anyone who denies the deity of Yeshua and thus, the Trinity, is not very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Five times in the Tanakh, Yahweh is called the "cloud rider." But Daniel 7 is an exception. There the rider on the cloud is the Son of Man, a human. Dominion is given to the Son of Man, the second cloud rider. So, here we see Yeshua, the Son of Man, coming to the Ancient of days and receiving His everlasting kingdom. This prophecy was fulfilled at the Ascension.

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Yeshua God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’" Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Yeshua whom you crucified." Acts 2:30-36 ESV

The kingdom received from the Ancient of days is none other than the kingdom symbolized by the stone cut out of the mountain in Daniel 2. The kingdom was given to Christ at His ascension.

The prophetic language of the Tanakh clearly shows that Yahweh’s coming on a cloud speaks of his coming in judgment. And that is exactly what it means in the New Testament when it portrays Christ’s coming on clouds. Does that make sense? We see that there is a second cloud rider in Daniel 7 and that cloud rider is Yeshua. If we come to the New Testament with this understanding, it will help us in understanding the Second Coming of Christ.

The majority opinion of the nature of the second coming is that it will be a physical, visible, bodily return of the Lord Yeshua, the Christ, to earth that every eye will see. There is no question that that is the view held by the majority of Christians today, but is it what the Bible teaches? Where does the Bible teach that Yeshua will return to earth in a physical, bodily manner? Some would say that Acts 1:11 teaches a physical bodily second coming. Let's look at it.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Acts 1:9-11 ESV

The website, commenting on this text, says, "This passage is not a symbolic vision. It is a literal, historical narrative. Just as the disciples literally saw Jesus ascend bodily into heaven, the angels tell them that He ‘will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’ We see this hope of a literal, physical return of Jesus from heaven to earth repeated again in the Apostles’ preaching."

"This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven"—His ascension was physical and visible, so won't His return be also? It says he will come in "the same way." The words, "same way" are the Greek phrase, "hon tropon." By examining the usage of "hon tropon" in the New Testament, we find that it is clear that this phrase does not mean "exactly the same in every detail" but has the idea of "similar in some fashion." For example, look at how this phrase is used in Luke 13.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Luke 13:34 ESV

Did Yeshua want to gather Jerusalem in exactly the same manner as (hon tropon) a hen gathers her chicks? I don't think so. The emphasis of Acts 1:11 is that Christ's coming would be a cloud coming. Just as he left in a cloud, so he would come in the clouds. One of the most pervasive images of Christ's return is as one who rides his cloud chariot into battle. There is no Scripture that explicitly teaches that Yeshua would return in a physical, bodily fashion. An understanding of the language of the Tanakh will help us see that his second coming was not to be a physical bodily coming.

Someone is bound to say, But what about:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.  Revelation 1:7 ESV

Doesn’t the phrase "every eye will see him" indicate that his coming was to be physical? No, this is not a physical, bodily coming of Christ but a coming in judgment. The idea of "seeing" here is not physically seeing but "to recognize, to be aware, to perceive." The destruction of Jerusalem would cause the tribes of Israel to recognize that Yeshua was indeed the Son of man and the Messiah. Matthew says that the destruction of Jerusalem would be a sign.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  Matthew 24:30 ESV

When is "then?" "Then" refers to "immediately after the tribulation of those days" of verse 29. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, which was the great tribulation, this sign would be seen. What was the sign? As you can imagine, there are all kinds of guesses as to what the sign was to be. Some of the Church fathers (e.g., Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, and Erasmus) believed that the sign would be a cross appearing in the heavens. Some believed it was the return of the star that marked His birth. Some Dispensationalists believe that the sign would involve the heavenly city, New Jerusalem, descending and remaining as a satellite city suspended over the earthly city of Jerusalem.

Hal Lindsey said:  "Perhaps the 'sign of the Son of Man' will be a gigantic celestial image of Yeshua flashed upon the heavens for all to see. This would explain how all men suddenly recognize who He is and see the scars from His piercing at the cross."

It is clear that by ignoring audience relevance, the sign can be whatever one’s imagination wants it to be. But who asked what the sign of his coming would be? His disciples (verse 3). Whom was Yeshua talking to? The disciples. Whatever the sign would be, it was to appear in AD 70 immediately after the "tribulation of those days," which was the destruction of Jerusalem. It was a sign to "that generation" and not to us some 2,000 years later.

To understand what this sign was to be, we first need to have a correct translation. The NIV really adds to the confusion in the following translation: "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky." A word-for-word rendering from the Greek reads: "And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven." Notice carefully that the location is heaven, not the sky; and it is not the sign that is in heaven, but the Son of Man who is in heaven. The point is this: The destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple was the sign that the Son of Man was in heaven.

J. Marcellus Kik said, "A sign was not to appear in the heavens, but the destruction of Jerusalem was to indicate the rule of the Son of man in heaven."

The wording of this passage refers us back to the expression, "The Son of Man," found in Daniel 7:13 which Yeshua used concerning Himself when referring to His coming. The judgment of Jerusalem was a sign that the Son of Man was in heaven in fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14.

The kingdom was given to Christ at His ascension, and this was made manifest to all Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jerusalem's destruction was a sign that Yeshua the Christ was the Messiah of God.

But Yeshua remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Yeshua said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:63-64 ESV

Caiaphas, the high priest, asked Yeshua if He was the Son of God, the Messiah. Notice the similarities between Yeshua's answer to Caiaphas and what he said in to his disciples in Matthew 24.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 ESV

Yeshua told Caiaphas "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power." He told His disciples that they would see the sign that the Son of Man was in heaven." He told Caiaphas: "You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven." He said to His disciples: "You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." It is obviously the same event in both passages. Notice Caiaphas' response to Yeshua's statement.

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy." Matthew 26:65 ESV

What did Yeshua say that was blasphemous? Caiaphas understood that Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah. In order to understand what Yeshua was saying, we need to understand the idea that is behind the phrase "coming in the clouds." And that is why we spent time looking at the meaning of the cloud rider.

When Yeshua said he would come on the clouds, He was using the apocalyptic language of the prophets to identify himself as the Messiah, the Judge. Caiaphas reacted the way he did because he knew that only God came on clouds and, therefore, Yeshua was making a claim to deity. He knew that Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah of Daniel 7. Notice what Yeshua says to Caiaphas in Mark 14.

And Yeshua said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Mark 14:62 ESV

Here it says that they will see Him "coming with the clouds of heaven" while He is "seated at the right hand of the Power." If this is literal and bodily, how could He do both at the same time? This is clearly apocalyptic language. His coming with the clouds is proof of His sitting on the right hand of power.

John Lightfoot wrote the following:                                                           

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. Then shall the Son of Man give a proof of himself, who they would not before acknowledge: a proof, indeed, not in any visible figure, but in vengeance and judgment so visible, that all the tribes of the earth shall be forced to acknowledge him the avenger. The Jews would not know him: now they shall know him, whether they will or no, Isa. xxvi. II. Many times they asked of him a sign: now a sign shall appear, that he is the true Messiah, whom they despised, derided, and crucified, namely, his signal vengeance and fury, such as never any nation felt from the first foundations of the world.

Thomas Newton (1754) said:

Our Saviour proceedeth in the same figurative style, ver. 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.' The plain meaning of it is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ's power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will be led from thence to acknowledge Christ and the Christian religion. In the ancient prophets, God is frequently described as coming in the 'clouds' upon any remarkable interposition and manifestation of his power; and the same description is here applied to Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem will be as ample a manifestation of Christ's power and glory as if he was himself to come visibly in the clouds of heaven.

John Gill (1809) a premillennialist said, "He shall appear, not in person, but in the power of his wrath and vengeance, on the Jewish nation which will be a full sign and proof of his being come."

The prophetic language of the Tanakh clearly shows that the Lord’s coming on a cloud speaks of his coming in judgment. And that is exactly what it means in the New Testament when it portrays Christ’s coming on clouds. People saw him come in judgment, but it was not a visible appearance of Christ in person. Yeshua predicted both the destruction of Jerusalem and His Parousia in the same context.

Since Jerusalem was destroyed, just as He said it would be, why would it be hard to believe that He came just as he said he would? The destruction of Jerusalem was as substantial a manifestation of Christ's power and glory as if he had himself come visibly in the clouds of heaven.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.  Revelation 1:7 ESV

John said that Yeshua was coming "soon" and "quickly" and that the "Jews," those who pierced him, would wail at his coming. The word "tribes" is a reference to Israel. Gentiles are not referred to as "tribes" in the Bible. Why are all the tribes wailing? Because their holy city and temple were destroyed in his coming. There were tribes in Israel at that time, but since its destruction in AD 70, there have been no "tribes" in Israel.

The cloud coming of Yeshua was a coming in judgment on Jerusalem. There was no physical bodily presence of Yeshua, rather, his presence was seen in the Roman army’s destruction of Jerusalem.

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