1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.
3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
With Spring having arrived, it is easy to look forward to the summer days of wearing sandals instead of winter boots. I personally can’t wait to go to a park this summer and walk barefoot in the grass. Let’s face it, there is just something primal and wonderful and childish about taking off our shoes and socks and letting the green grass tickle our toes. And how about walking on a beach in our bare feet? I don’t think we ever feel so close to God’s glorious Creation as we do in the summer, when we can enjoy the feel of every breeze, every blade of grass, every warm lake, every leaf that caresses our arm as we walk through the woods. Yes, those barefoot days are coming, and I know I’m not alone in looking forward to them.
Moses was a shepherd, and that meant traveling over uneven ground–some grass-covered, other as harsh as desert–and so the wayward Israelite wore sandals to protect his feet. Having run away after murdering an Egyptian overseer, Moses was undoubtedly grateful for his time away from civilization tending his father-in-law Jethro’s flocks in Midian. Moving from pasture to pasture through the arid land between Egypt and Arabia was a good way to avoid attention, and it was a good way for Moses to spend time with his guilt. But after forty years of living as an Egyptian prince, and another forty years of living as a simple shepherd, God was ready to call Moses to his REAL life as the leader of God’s people. And God made that call in the rather dramatic fashion written in the verses above.
Mount Horeb is a place that the people of God return to again and again. It is the place where Moses struck the rock and brought forth water for the Israelites. (Exodus 17:6) According to Moses, Horeb was the mountain in the Sinai where God handed down the Ten Commandments. (Deuteronomy 4, see also Psalms 106:19, Malachi 4:4) It was also the “mountain of God” where Elijah fled from Jezebel, and where God spoke to that prophet in that “still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:8-18) But on the day when Moses first approached the place, to him it was just another mountain in a land of mountains. Horeb was to be a holy place in the life of Israel, but Moses did not know that until he approached the burning bush.
When we read about God ordering Moses to remove his sandals, we most often think about God making sure that Moses treats the holy place with respect, with reverence. Sandals are covered will all manner of dirt and even dung, and so it is only fitting to leave such things as shoes and sandals off our feet as we enter into the holy place. God is essentially telling Moses to leave behind the dust of the road, and to enter into a place that is better than anywhere he has ever been before.
“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.'”
This is another dimension to leaving behind the dirt of our travels: God is asking us to lighten our load, to take off the sandals that bear the wear and tear of many roads. Here is how Jesus put it:
28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When we enter into the holy place of God without worrying about the places we have been, then we are better able to bear the burden of love that God places upon us. Moses didn’t need to bear the burden of guilt from Egypt anymore, and he didn’t need to worry about anyone else’s judgment because the Lord God of his fathers had already forgiven him and called Moses to Him.
And there is one more dimension to removing our sandals before entering the holy place of God.
5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.'”
6 So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.
Removing our sandals and stepping into the holy place of God leaves us bare before Him. It is not as if God does not already know all our secrets. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) But He wants us to know what it is we are doing in our lives that is not holy. He wants us to leave our unholiness behind–or at least be aware of it–before we come before Him and answer His call. He wants to see us unadorned, stripped of pretense and pride, barefoot and penitent before the King and Judge of this world. That is, after all, the way a servant comes before those whom he serves.
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God,
4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.
5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
This humility before God brings us closer to Him. If we could but see the humility with which He serves us, we would see how we need to be when we approach Him. After Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, He told them, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15) The example He gave was not just in His actions–the Lord kneeling to wash the feet of His servants and brothers–but also in how He did it: laying aside His garments and helping them to remove the dirt of their travels.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
Look at David’s prayer before God, asking the Lord to keep him from committing presumptuous sins–i.e. sins of pride, sins that rise from a heart not focused on the things of God. Only by having the Lord cleanse him of unrighteousness can David stand before God and know that he is blameless. Only by allowing the Lord God of his fathers strip him of his proud and sinful nature can he know that his thoughts and words will be acceptable to God.
And so God told Moses, “Take your sandals off your feet.” The Lord asks us to take off the unholy things that stain us, to leave behind the burdens of our travels–the guilt, the shame, the dirt of unholy places and things. And He asks us to enter into that holy place where the burning bush shows us the wonder of His power in Creation, where the consuming fire of His presence does not destroy that which He has chosen for His purposes.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Taking off our sandals and entering into the mountain of God, we know we can bear all things. We know that the trials of this world cannot defeat us if we are holy before God. His fire did not consume that bush, nor did it consume Moses, and it shall not consume us but only purify us as we enter into His presence. Let us take off our sandals, and approach the burning bush with confidence that the Holy One of Israel desires our presence there, that He will bear us up and make us holy as only He can do. Let us depart from the road we have been traveling and leave behind the dirt of those travels, and enter onto a journey that takes us where God would lead us.
Heavenly Father, Your presence is indeed a consuming fire, a flame that burns away all pretense and pride. Your power and majesty are incomparable, and we come before You humble and penitent, and stripped of the dirt of our former lives. Make us new creations, Lord, so that we may travel new roads in Your name and to Your glory. Amen.