Weather in Palestine.

The climate of Pal. is relatively simple. The weather is highly predictable for every day in each season, and the seasons are nearly identical in pattern every year. To the W lies the Mediterranean Sea; to the E the desert. The prevailing winds come from the W and bring clouds. If it is cool enough or if the mountains are high enough, the clouds release their water in the form of rain or, more rarely, snow. Therefore, the coast and the higher mountains, particularly Gilead and Moab, receive the most rain but this is only in the winter. One may see clouds year round, and even though they do provide shade they may not drop rain. Frequently a mist is seen in the morning, but the rising heat of the day quickly dispels it.

Biblical terminology.

Rain clouds are generally described by the second most common word עָב, H6265. Although it is used sometimes in parallel with the first word, as in Exodus 19:9, this is the word connected with rain. Psalm 77:17; Ecclesiastes 11:3; and Isaiah 5:6 all illustrate the same.

The third most common Heb. word for cloud שַׁ֫חַק, H8836, is related to a verb meaning “to be thin” and hence it refers to scattered or thin clouds. The RSV renders this word “skies” in Job 36:28.

In the NT the word for “cloud” is νεφέλη, G3749, except for the masc. form which occurs once (Heb 12:1). The word describes both rain clouds (cf. Luke 12:54; Jude 12) and that which obscures or accompanies Christ (Luke 21:27, et al.).

Job uses clouds to illustrate things more widely by far than any other Bible book. Not only the uses noted above but the following are worthy of mention: Job 20:6 illustrates height while other vv. (36:29; 37:16; and 38:34) illustrate man’s inability to understand, comprehend, or compare with God’s creation. By the same token they show God’s power (Job 26:9; 37:11; and 38:9).


G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1894), ch. III; D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957), chs. IV and V.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`anan, `abh; nephele, nephos):

I. Clouds in Palestine.

In the Bible few references are found of particular clouds or of clouds in connection with the phenomena of the weather conditions. The weather in Palestine is more even and has less variety than that in other lands. It is a long, narrow country with sea on the West and desert on the East. The wind coming from the West is always moist and brings clouds with it. If the temperature over the land is low enough the clouds will be condensed and rain will fall, but if the temperature is high, as in the five months of summer, there can be no rain even though clouds are seen. As a whole the winter is cloudy and the summer clear.

1. Rain Clouds:

In the autumn rain storms often arise suddenly from the sea, and what seems to be a mere haze, "as small as a man’s hand," such as Gehazi saw (1Ki 18:44) over the sea, within a few hours becomes the black storm cloud pouring down torrents of rain (1Ki 18:45). Fog is almost unknown and there is very seldom an overcast, gloomy day. The west and southwest winds bring rain (Lu 12:54).

2. Disagreeable Clouds:

In the months of April, May and September a hot east wind sometimes rises from the desert and brings with it a cloud of dust which fills the air and penetrates everything. In the summer afternoons, especially in the month of August, on the seacoast there is apt to blow up from the South a considerable number of low cirro-stratus clouds which seem to fill the air with dampness, making more oppressive the dead heat of summer. These are doubtless the detested "clouds without water" mentioned in Jude 1:12, and "heat by the shade of a cloud" (Isa 25:5).

II. Figurative Uses.

1. Yahweh’s Presence and Glory:

2. Pillar of Cloud:

The pillar of cloud was a symbol of God’s guidance and presence to the children of Israel in their journeys to the promised land. The Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud and forsook them not (Ne 9:19). They followed the guidance of this cloud (Ex 40:36; Ps 78:14).

3. Bow in Cloud:

The clouds are spoken of in the Old Testament as the symbol of God’s presence and care over His people; and so the "bow in the cloud" (Ge 9:13) is a sign of God’s protection.

4. Clouds Blot Out:

As the black cloud covers the sky and blots out the sun from sight, so Yahweh promises "to blot out the sins" of Israel (Isa 44:22); Egypt also shall be conquered, "As for her, a cloud shall cover her" (Eze 30:18; compare La 2:1).

5. Transitory:

There is usually a wide difference in temperature between day and night in Palestine. The days axe warm and clouds coming from the sea are often completely dissolved in the warm atmosphere over the land. As the temperature falls, the moisture again condenses into dew and mist over the hills and valleys. As the sun rises the "morning cloud" (Ho 6:4) is quickly dispelled and disappears entirely. Job compares the passing of his prosperity to the passing clouds (Job 30:15).

6. God’s Omnipotence and Man’s Ignorance:

God "bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds" (Job 26:8) and the "clouds are the dust of his feet" (Na 1:3). Yahweh "commands the clouds that they rain no rain" (Isa 5:6), but as for man, "who can number the clouds?" (Job 38:37); "Can any understand the spreadings of the clouds?" (Job 36:29); "Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?" (Job 37:16). See Balancings. "He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap" (Ec 11:4), for it is God who controls the clouds and man cannot fathom His wisdom. "Thick clouds are a covering to him" (Job 22:14).

7. Visions:

Clouds are the central figure in many visions. Ezekiel beheld "a stormy wind .... out of the north, a great cloud" (Eze 1:4), and John saw "a white cloud; and on the cloud one sitting" (Re 14:14). See also Da 7:13; Re 10:1; 11:12.

8. The Terrible and Unpleasant:

The cloud is also the symbol of the terrible and of destruction. The day of Yahweh’s reckoning is called the "day of clouds" (Eze 30:3) and a day of "clouds and thick darkness" (Zec 1:15). The invader is expected to "come up as clouds" (Jer 4:13). Joe 2:2 foretells the coming of locusts as "a day of clouds and thick darkness" which is both literal and figurative. Misfortune and old age are compared to "the cloudy and dark day" (Eze 34:12) and "the clouds returning after rain" (Ec 12:2).

9. Various Other Figures:

Clouds are used in connection with various other figures. Rapidity of motion, "these that fly as a cloud" (Isa 60:8). As swaddling clothes of the newborn earth (Job 38:9); indicating great height (Job 20:6) and figurative in Isa 14:14, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds," portraying the self- esteem of Babylon. "A morning without clouds" is the symbol of righteousness and justice (2Sa 23:4); partial knowledge and hidden glory (Le 16:2; Ac 1:9; Re 1:7).

Alfred H. Joy