The Hebrew equivalents for "cloud" are: (1) "'Anan," (Gen. ix. 13, 14; Ex. xiii., passim), which occurs once in the feminineform "'ananah" (Job iii. 5), and once in the Aramaic form (Dan. vii. 13). (2) "'Ab" is generally used in the poetic books instead of the more prosaic "'anan" (Job xxxvi. 29; xxxvii. 11, 16; I Kings xviii. 44; Isa. v. 6, etc.). (3) "Shaḥaḳ," a purely poetic form, occurring frequently in the plural, but only twice in the singular (Ps. lxxxix. 7, 38), is used for "heavens" (Job xxxvii. 15; Ps. lxxxix. 7, 38). In Deut. xxxiii. 26; Isa. xlv. 8; Jer. li. 9; Job xxxv. 5, xxxviii. 37; Ps. xxxvi. 5, lvii. 11, cviii. 5, it is used as a parallel for "heaven." (4) "'Arafel," a thick, heavy, dark cloud (Deut. iv. 11, v. 22; II Chron. vi. 1; Job xxii. 13, xxxviii. 9; Isa. lx. 2). (5) "Nesi'im," rendered "vapors" in Jer. x. 13, li. 16. Ps. cxxxv. 7 seems to echo Jer. x. 13 and li. 16, having a very similar phraseology. "Nesi'im" occurs also in Prov. xxv. 14, "clouds and wind and no rain."
In the peculiar climatic conditions of Palestine clouds were an important feature. The year was divided into a rainy season, from October to May, and a dry season, from May to October. During the rainless season not only was there no rain, but not even a cloud appeared in the heavens (I Sam. xii. 17, 18), and when the rain-cloud did appear it arose gradually from the west—that is, from the sea—and then the heavens were darkened and a tremendous downpour followed (I Kings xviii. 45). Many figurative expressions are derived from the qualities of the clouds. They are driven across the sky very quickly; hence it is said that the enemy "shall come up as the clouds" (Isa. xix. 1, ix. 8; Jer. iv. 13). Job complains of his welfare passing away as the cloud (Job xxx. 15). Here, too, is the thought that the cloud leaves no trace behind it. Originating from this thought is the phrase in Isa. xliv. 22, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions." The clouds of the rainy season foreshadow the rain, hence symbolize a favor bestowed (Prov. xvi. 15). In the dry season the dew-cloud revives the dried vegetation; God's favor is therefore pictured as the dew (Hosea xiv. 5). The blackness of the clouds betokens misfortune (Ezek. xxx. 18; Lam. ii. 1), and even a curse, as in Job iii. 5.
Clouds are frequently pictured as hiding God from man and as intercepting man's petitions (Lam. iii. 44; Job xxii. 13, 14). In Job xxvi. 8 there is the strong figure of the cloud used to bind up and contain the waters. As direct manifestations of God, the clouds are His chariots (Ps. civ. 3; Isa. xix. 1). When God appeared over Mount Sinai it was in clouds and thunder and lightning. A cloud covered the mercy-seat (Lev. xvi. 2) in the Tabernacle, and later on it rested over the Temple (I Kings viii. 10, 11; II Chron. v. 13, 14). A pillar of cloud accompanied the Ark, showing the way by day through the wilderness (Ex. xiii., passim). See Rainbow.
The observation of clouds for the purpose of divination () was one of the forbidden methods of forecasting the future (Lev. xix. 26). Notwithstanding this, the pillar of cloud of the altar was observed for that purpose in the Temple on New-Year's or Atonement Day (compare Yoma 21b.; B.B. 147a), the direction which the pillar of cloud took being thought to indicate what part of the land would be blessed with plenty during the year (Lev. R. xx.; compare Abraham's forecasting of the year while observing the stars on New-Year's eve [Book of Jubilees, xii. 16]). A cloud stationary over the top of Mount Moriah, betraying the presence of the Shekinah, was the means by which Abraham recognized "the place afar off" (Gen. xxii. 4; Gen. R. lvi.; Tan., Wayera, 46; Pirḳe R. El. xxxi.; Targ. Yer. to the passage). A cloud over the entrance to the tent of Sarah also indicated the presence of the Shekinah (Gen. R. lx.).
Of Moses it is narrated that when he was about to ascend to heaven, a cloud came to meet him, and, forming about him, carried him up (Pesiḳ. R. 20; ed. Friedmann, p. 96). God wrapped Moses in a cloud to protect him when the angels of heaven, who were jealous of him, wanted to cast him down (Ex. R. xli., xlii.). The cloud of the divine glory also appeared at Aaron's death on Mount Hor, and gradually covered him until he disappeared from before Moses (Yalḳuṭ, Mas'e, § 787). Moses was sanctified by the cloud so that he could receive the Law from God on Sinai (Ab. R. N. i.). When Moses' life was drawing to an end, the cloud of glory surrounded his successor, Joshua, at the gate of the tent, and Moses, standing outside, felt that his leadership was transferred to Joshua (Jellinek, "B. H." i. 116). Josephus ("Ant." iv. 8, § 48) relates of Moses' end that after he had dismissed the elders and was still discoursing with Eleazar, the high priest, and Joshua, a cloud suddenly stood over him and he disappeared (compare Samaritan Book of Joshua, vi.).
The clouds carried along from the River Pishon in paradise the precious stones for the ephod and the high priest's breastplate, as well as the sweet odors, the sacred oil, the balsam for the candlestick, and the ointment and incense for the Tabernacle (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxxv. 27, 28, the word , used in the passage, denoting both "princes" and "clouds"). The clouds spoken of in Isa. lx. 8 ("Who are these that fly as a cloud?") are miraculous clouds, carrying the righteous every morning and evening from all parts of the world to the Temple at Jerusalem, so that they may participate in the divine service (Pesiḳ. R. 1.; compare I Thess. iv. 17: "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them [the angels] in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air").
The cloud of divine glory which carries the Son of man in the Messianic vision (Dan. vii. 13) has given rise to the identification of Anani, the descendant of David (I Chron. iii. 24), with the Messiah as "the one who will come down from the clouds" (see Targ. and Sanh. 92b: [νεφήλη], "the son of the cloud"; hence Matt. xxiv. 30, passim).
Clouds of a miraculous character appeared to R. Ḥiyya ben Luliani in the time of a drought, saying to one another: "Come, let us bring rain to Ammon and Moab" (Ta'an. 25a). For the cloud-vision in the Baruch Apocalypse (liii. et seq.), see Baruch, Apocalypse of.
Regarding the origin and nature of the clouds, R. Eliezer holds, pointing to Gen. ii. 6 and Job xxxvi. 28, that the clouds above sweeten the water rising from the ocean as mist, while R. Joshua, referring to Deut. xi. 11 and Job xxxvi. 37, says that theclouds form a receptacle through which the water coming from above pours down as through a sieve; whence the name "sheḥaḳim" (grinders), as they "grind" the water into single rain-drops (Gen. R. xiii.; compare Bacher, "Die Agada der Tannaiten," i. 136). These views seem to have given rise to another controversy between R. Johanan and R. Simon b. Laḳish, the former referring to Dan. vii. 13, the latter to Ps. cxxxv. 7 (Gen. R. l.c.). The five Biblical names for "cloud" are explained: "'ab" = the cloud thickening the upper atmosphere; "ed" = the cloud bringing, in the form of rain, "calamity" upon corn-speculators; "'anan" = the cloud rendering people "pleasant toward one another through prosperity; "nesi'im" = the cloud rendering people "princes," either by benefiting all or by favoring some; "ḥaziz" = the "shining" cloud causing men to have "visions" (Gen. R. l.c., and Yer. Ta'an. iii. 66c).