In his perhaps unfortunately named work Bowels Opened, Richard Sibbes makes a connection between the cloud God used to guide the Israelites to the Promised Land out of Egypt and the reference in the letter to the Hebrews to the “cloud of witnesses” (“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…,” Hebrews 12.1 [ESV]). Just as in the Old Testament, so in the New, the “cloud” is a guide for pilgrims on their way to Canaan. Thus Sibbes:
Hence it is that Hebrews 11th, in that notable chapter, that little ‘book of martyrs,’ after the catalogue of those worthies set down there, that which we are exhorted and pointed to in the beginning of the next chapter, is unto the practice of the like virtues, in imitation, having before us ‘such a cloud of witnesses,’ wherewith being compassed, the exhortation is, ‘Let us therefore shake off everything that presseth down, and the sin that hangeth so fast on,’ &c., Heb. xii. 1. As the cloud was a guide to them to Canaan out of Egypt, so the cloud of good examples is as it were a light to go before us to the heavenly Canaan.
The author of Hebrews continues: “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2). So, too, does Sibbes continue, remarking on how Christ’s love and the example of his endurance function to bring Christians through their own discouragements:
In this case above all, let us look to Christ, ‘who is the author and finisher of our faith,’ Heb. xii. 2. This will make us break through discouragements and resolve indeed. What could hinder him? His love is so fiery, that nothing could hinder him to come from heaven to the womb of the virgin; from thence to the cross, and so to the grave, to be abased lower than ever any creature was. His love to us so carried him through all discouragements and disgraces. ‘Consider him, who endured such speaking against of sinners,’ Heb. xii. 3. The consideration of Christ’s love and example will carry us through all discouragements whatsoever.