The Cloud Rider

We often associate clouds with power. In modern media, we depict clouds as a place where superheroes belong. We revel in the marvels of modern technology, recognizing that humans have become powerful enough to make their way past the clouds in gigantic double-decker airplanes. And, of course, we naturally associate power with clouds as we watch the sky ominously darken as a storm rolls in.

With these kinds of themes in mind, it’s no shocker that ancient people associated clouds with the gods. Baal, for instance, was a storm god known to ride the clouds. He was one of the most popular deities in the ancient world and several nations followed him—including Israel, who constantly gave themselves over to him in idolatry. Because he rode the clouds, Baal was known for rain, which also connected him to themes of agriculture, making him incredibly important to a farming society that lacked modern technology. His power was also seen in his conquests, where he fought and defeated chaotic sea monsters. As the second highest god in his pantheon, Baal lived and ruled over the gods and humanity from his palace on Mount Zaphon (a word that translates literally as “the north”).

The Bible writers wanted to put all of this ideology back where it belonged. They taught that it wasn’t Baal who brought storms, rain, and the agricultural fertility that came with it, but Yahweh who did all that. It wasn’t Baal who defeated the sea monsters, but Yahweh who had the sea monsters on a leash like docile pets. It wasn’t Baal who ruled the cosmos from the north of Mount Zaphon, but Yahweh who ruled the cosmos from, as Psalm 48:2 says, “Mount Zion, in the far north”—that is, the far zaphon. Furthermore, the Bible writers point out that it wasn’t Baal who rode the clouds, but Yahweh.

But one day, Daniel had a mysterious prophetic dream about a human riding the clouds up to Heaven like Yahweh, where he was then given dominion over all people in an eternal kingdom, just like a god might be given. This cryptic and rather blasphemous-sounding dream must have been a hard one for Israel to mull over. This is seen in the fact that when Jesus claimed to be the human cloud rider, the high priest and his council accused him of blasphemy and decided to have him killed. But Jesus went on to fulfill this prophecy and showed us that it hadn’t been blasphemy after all—for Jesus is Yahweh in human form. The disciples attested to this as they watched the once-crucified-now-resurrected Jesus ride a cloud up to Heaven. And now, as king of the cosmos, Jesus’ followers continue to serve him here on the earth while they wait for him to ride the clouds back down to bring about the day when all things will be judged so that the cosmos can be perfected under the fullness of his reign.

In the meantime, Baal may keep one of his associations, for he was also thematically connected to the realm of the dead—a realm that the Bible believed Satan had been relegated to. For that reason, it’s not much of a surprise that Jesus talks about Beelzebul (a name that originated from one of Baal’s titles, “Baal Zebul”) as though he is synonymous with Satan (Matthew 12:22-32).

The information in today’s post is taken from two main sources: Michael Heiser’s, The Unseen Realm, and the entry on Baal in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible.

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