What is the meaning of this portion of Scripture? Because Moses was told to remove his shoes, does it have any significance to believers throughout the world today?
Moses was minding sheep in the desert. He took the flock to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. The bush was on fire but it did not burn up. Moses decided to go over to look at this remarkable sight, as to why the bush was not burnt up. When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God “said his name out of the tree”. Moses replied, “Here I am”. Then He said, “Do not come near, remove your sandals for the place on which you are standing is holy ground”. God had a message for Moses. He called him to a holy task, as found in verses 7-22.
We notice that firstly, there was a supernatural and visible revelation of God in the person of the Angel of the Lord. The material bush was on fire and did not burn up. Moses saw only the miracle and he wanted to be closer to it. Then the Lord showed Himself to Moses from the bush and spoke to him. Secondly, the Lord stopped him from getting any closer, and told him to remove his sandals. Thirdly, he was told he was standing on holy ground.
For us to remove our sandals or shoes there would need to be a recurrence of the events around this incident. We would need personally a supernatural and visible revelation of God. There would need to be a bush on fire. We would need to be standing on ground God tells us is holy. Also, we should receive Divine instructions for the people of God as did Moses. God told no one else to remove his shoes.
This can never be repeated for us today. Therefore, we are not commanded to take off our shoes. Later, the Jews were to have reverence for the Temple, as being the place then where they worshipped God. Luke 11:16 “He (Jesus) would not allow anyone to carry his wares through the temple“. The Mishnah that sets out oral law, had a rule whereby no one could enter the Temple with “staff, sandal, wallet, or with dust on the feet”. We are not Jews and are not under any Law. To conform to this practice we would need to remove wallets and dust as well as sandals to enter a church! We are under the New Covenant. We worship in the Spirit in heavenly places.
It is the custom in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Africa for the faithful to remove their shoes before entering a church. Once, a Westerner whose bare feet ached as he walked around bare footed, wondered aloud why shoes must be removed. An official spoke up, and said, “And would you tread on the toes of the angels who crowd a church during services?” We true believers in Jesus Christ, who are truly born again and some of us even baptised in the Spirit, would give this kind of doctrine the laughing humour it deserves.
According to Hebrews 1:1, 2, God spoke in many ways but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son. This happened when the Son of God was born as a baby, grew to manhood and died on the Cross for our sins. Then He rose from the dead. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, as stated in 2 Corinthians 5:19. We do not need to see God in a burning bush.
The ground was made holy for Moses. We stand today on different “holy ground”. It is not any ground of this earth. The “holy ground” on which we stand, is the sanctuary in heaven according to Hebrews 10:19, “We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus”. Hebrews 9:24 states it is a sanctuary not made by human hands. It is in heaven.
Our worship is not in relation to a place. We are not called to come to a holy, earthly place. Hebrews 12:18,22,23 “You have not come to what you can touch, something material, or You have not had to approach things which your senses could experience as they did in the old days ..But you have come up to Mount Zion, even to the city of the living God, to the festal assembly of Heaven and the Church and to God”. This is where we stand, and in the righteousness of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Our worship now has no connection with a place or building that we might like to think as holy. Jesus Himself said this in John 4:21,23 “The time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem …But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.”
Some churches set apart ground made “holy” especially for the burial of their faithful dead. That is why a person who commits suicide is not allowed to be buried in their so-called “holy” ground. There is no scriptural basis for this. Some church buildings are declared to be “holy”. There is no verse in the New Testament that warrants this.
When we enter a meeting place today, the building itself is not holy. There is no place that is holy. The floor is not holy. The ground is not holy. The table or podium is not holy. Therefore, there is no need to remove our shoes in honour of the place. We do not need to prove our humility or even to show it by removing shoes. We who believe in Jesus Christ are made into a “holy people” and we are the “holy temple” of the Lord. We are the “holy” ones. Our holiness is within us and is not earthly, but heavenly.
Heaven is our holy ground today. It is obvious that we are standing there in the Spirit of Christ. Whether we wear sandals or remove them is not important. We can remove them for the sake of comfort or convenience. The children of Israel had regulations for worship in an earthly sanctuary. It had earthly utensils, made of material things.
Today, we do not centre our worship in an earthly sanctuary or use earthly, material things. We worship God in Spirit and in Truth, John 4:24. The importance for us is not whether we wear sandals or not. The vital thing is that our hearts are washed in the Blood of Jesus. This again, is not a material thing. There is not any material blood here that washes our bodies’ beating hearts.
Our spirits and souls, inwardly, are cleansed spiritually by the Blood of Jesus. Spiritually we approach God and worship Him. He is not concerned, therefore, with having us remove our shoes to enter an earthly tabernacle, church or meeting place. Those places are not holy.
There is no building on earth that can be called “holy”. There is not a building or a church that can be considered as being the house where God is or where He dwells. Where He dwells on earth is indeed made holy. His people are His holy sanctuary. We are the building erected for His presence. We are the temple of the Holy Ghost, 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and in 1 Peter 2:4 we are told that we are built into a spiritual house. We are to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus. We are not told to do any of this by removing our shoes or sandals. We are made holy by the Blood of Christ and so approach His heavenly throne.
The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. This Angel was the Lord himself. He was the manifestation of the eternal Son of God before He became incarnate, born of a virgin. The Angel of the Lord spoke as God. In Exodus 3:2, “the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him” and in verse 4, “the Lord ( the Lord) saw”. He called Moses. The Angel of the Lord spoke as God. Every appearance of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is the pre-incarnate appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity. For example, in Genesis 22:15-16, the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “by Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord”.
In Judges 13:18 the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful? The name of the child and son to be born as in Isaiah 9:6 “will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace”. Clearly, this is the eternal Son who came to earth and was born of the virgin, Mary.
God tabernacled amongst us in an earthen vessel, as it reads in John 1:14. Jesus showed forth His glory in the first miracle He did when He turned water into wine. In John 2:11 it reads, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did, and manifested His glory”. This was Divine glory. They saw His glory.
In the glory and supernatural revelation in the bush in Exodus, we catch a glimpse of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This baby was called, “Immanuel”, meaning “God with us”, God in the flesh on this earth. Moses, a fleshy, earthen vessel was to partake of this. This was God’s grace to man, that Moses could participate in this, the very glory and presence of God.
Therefore, on that piece of ground, on that area of dust, made Holy by the Presence of God, Moses must remove his sandals. This action was not to give reverence or honour to God. Any reverence to God must be on a higher plane than the mere removal of sandals.
Moses was required to remove his shoes to receive in his being, the holiness and presence of God as the Angel of the Lord, in His manifestation on earth. He was in the bush, that had its roots in the dust of the earth. From there the presence of God spread through the ground to where Moses stood. This presence and holiness of God reached out to Moses where he stood on the earth. From that earth it went up into the earthly body of Moses, who as we, descended from Adam, who was made from dust.
We also, as earthly creatures, are made partakers of the holiness and presence of God which comes to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He became flesh, being born of Mary, and thus the Son of God came to us in the tabernacle of His body, which also was created in Mary, and from dust. We are not required to remove our sandals to receive this holiness in our earthly beings. We are required to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts.
Then we have the holiness and righteousness of God within ourselves, in this earthly body. Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”; Hebrews 12:10, “we may share his holiness”. In 2 Corinthians 4:6,7 the Word of God clearly shows the glory of God has reached out to us. “For God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels”.
Thus Moses had a preview of this gospel truth. It was a pre New Testament experience. He took off his shoes. The holiness and presence and glory of God, there in the bush alight with fire, diffused the earth. Moses, an earthen vessel was to touch that holy ground to receive that ‘treasure’.
There was a great spiritual truth there for Moses to begin to grasp. The burning bush represented the mystery of the incarnation (God in Christ) and the sufferings of Christ. It is no wonder that it was called “a great sight” as it represented God manifest in the flesh, the “Immanuel”), “God with us”, Matthew 1:23, who was to be born, (Isaiah 7:14. His suffering was shown in the bush, His death and rising from the dead, as the bush burnt but was not consumed..
We do not see a literal bush on fire today or God manifested before these eyes. However, we take off the “sandals” of our carnal reasonings and fleshy, worldly imaginations regarding God and His ways. Instead by faith, we see Jesus Christ revealed, He who was made visible in the flesh. He was born that “Holy thing” as the Angel told Mary. He was holy and sinless. His holiness touched earth and penetrated it.
We stand on holy ground when we come before Him as the Great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. His holiness is imparted to us who are of this earth, who are earthy. We have seen His glory. It is implanted within us through the Holy Spirit. The heavenly glory is thus revealed to us of earth. The “bush” has burned for us personally in this, and we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. We need to worship Him often in other tongues.
We do not hear a voice. We do not see a fire. We make no external, earthly gesture. We do not remove our sandals. Our holy ground is not in this world. No building or church is our holy ground. We are in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Colossians 3:1-3; Ephesians 1:20. Removing our sandals is a meaningless gesture before God. He does not require it. He requires faith. Jacob showed faith. He used to pray bowing to the ground. When dying he did not bow on the ground, but leant on his staff for support Hebrews 11:21. This all shows that the physical way used in praying is not important. We ourselves need only righteousness by faith in the Son of God Galatians 2:20.
The old sinful nature has been crucified with Christ. Now Christ lives in us. We do not need to remove shoes, wear certain clothing, sit in a low position or take a lowly posture to show humility. Humility is of and in the heart. We humble ourselves in our hearts to draw near to God. We admit our helplessness and rely on HIM.
When the twelve disciples were following Jesus, He taught them new things. Suddenly, new ideas and new ways of thinking were opened up to them. Jesus Christ came preaching a message of repentance, Mark 1:15. It was a call to change from the old ways and religion. They were to have a new beginning. They must go in a direction contrary to the former way of life and religious thinking.
Jesus refused the traditions of the Elders and Pharisees. He accused them of having hearts that preferred their own ways to the ways of God. Jesus preached that compassion must be shown rather than a commitment to legalistic bondage. Jesus Christ came to set us free, and also to free us from following legalistic demands. He condemned the religious leaders for demanding their followers also adhere to legal commands. Righteousness is never obtained by adhering to laws and regulations.
Heathen customs must not be brought into the practice of the kingdom of God and its gospel. The old way of honouring gods of whatever kind is to cease. We cannot carry over into church practice the heathen way of showing honour in the removal of shoes. Whatever is connected with pagan worship and practices is connected to demons.
Humility is not to be shown by removing one’s sandals, but as the inward fruit of the Spirit.
Many of the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have been brought in from heathen religions over the centuries. We must not be guilty like them, of bringing in heathen customs into the Pentecostal churches, such as the removal of shoes on entering a church building, approaching the “altar” or to pray.
For practical purposes it is all right to remove shoes, as long as the personal motive is just that and not to bring reverence to a place or altar. Our reverence is of the heart and in the Spirit of God.
Jesus Christ showed that the barriers of legal righteousness must go. We have the new wine of the kingdom. It must not be put into the old wineskins of traditions and old religious customs and ways. We please God by faith.