Clouds rarely appear in the Bible in a simple meteorological context, which means that clouds often have a theological meaning. When Israel “looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10). After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelite journey through the cloud, and the fire represents God’s presence with them during their journey (Exod. 13:21, 22; 14:19, 20, 24; Neh. 9:12, 19; Pss. 78:14; 99:7; 105:39).
Several passages associate God’s appearance as a warrior with the cloud. Michael Heiser wrote the following concerning the widespread concept in the ancient Near East that the one who rides the clouds is a deity:
In the Ugaritic texts, the god Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” The description became an official title of Baal, whom the entire ancient Near Eastern world considered a deity of rank. To ancient people all over the Mediterranean, Israelite or not, the “one who rides the clouds” was a deity—his status as a god was unquestioned. Consequently, any figure to whom the title was attributed was a god (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015, 251).
The writers of the Hebrew Bible were familiar with Baal and the Baal stories because the worship of Baal was an ongoing problem in Israel. One thing these inspired authors of the Old Testament did to counter the Baal legends and emphasize that Yahweh (the God of Israel) should be worshiped instead of Baal was to depict the God of Israel as the real warrior who rider the clouds as His chariot. Please do not misconstrue my point. Yahweh is the real cloud rider (the Old Testament authors did not image Him as something He is not).
Deuteronomy 33:26 There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty
Psalm 18:6-12 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. 12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
Psalm 68:4 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!
Psalm 68:32-34 O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah 33 to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. 34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies
Psalm 104:1-4 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. 3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; 4 he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.
Isaiah 19:1 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.
Nahum 1:3 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.
The point of this recurring image of God is to tell the reader that when God puts on His armor (Isa. 59:17) and rides His cloud chariot, things happen. God is doing battle for righteousness and justice. God is waging a spiritual war against the powers of darkness.
When the warrior God goes to battle, it is an excellent time to make sure that you are “on the Lord’s side” (Exodus 32:26).
This image is carried into the New Testament with Jesus as the “son of man coming on the clouds” (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; 26:57-66; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 17:24-25; 21:27; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16).