Best of Daily Reflections: Holy Ground, Part 2 - Taking Off Your Shoes
“Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground."
When Moses came upon a burning bush that was not consumed, he was understandably curious. But when he started to investigate, God called to him, saying: “Do not come any closer. . . . Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” (v. 5). In the ancient world, it was common for people to remove their sandals when entering a temple. Some scholars suggest that this might have to do with not bringing grime from the outside world into a sacred place. Other commentators see the removing of shoes as a sign of submission, since slaves generally went barefoot. Though we can’t be sure of the original meaning of sandal removal, for Moses it was surely a sign of reverence before God, as well as an act of obedience to God’s command.
In our time of history, gestures of respect and reverence have largely been forgotten. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I wore a cap into a European cathedral. As I made my way around the nave, observing its glorious artifacts, all of a sudden a church official came rushing over to me in a huff. “Remove your hat!” he said loudly. “Remove your hat!” Embarrassed, I followed his order, resolving never to make that mistake again.
In some Christian traditions, worshipers show reverence to God by dressing specially, or by bowing as they enter the sanctuary, or by speaking only in hushed tones before a worship service begins. Yet it seems that most of us have lost touch with tangible signs that honor God’s holiness. I expect this has contributed to a general loss of reverence among Christians today, though it’s surely not the only reason. In recent times, we have rightly emphasized that God is our friend, but we have wrongly minimized the fact that this friend is also the holy, all-wise, all-powerful creator of the universe, a God worthy of our reverence and submission.
In Hebrews 12:28 we read, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.” I wonder how we might respond to this verse today in our cultural setting.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you do anything that reminds you of God’s holiness? How might we “take off our shoes” in response to a holy God? How can we worship God “with holy fear and awe” and, at the same time, draw near to him with confidence in his love for us?
PRAYER: Holy God, you are worthy of reverent worship, of awe-filled devotion. There have been times in my life when I have been overwhelmed by your holiness and have responded with appropriate reverence. But, I must confess that all too often I approach you casually, forgetting just who you are. Indeed, you invite me to know you intimately, and for this I am eternally grateful. But this does not mean I should forget your awesomeness, your purity, your majesty. Forgive me, Lord, when I treat you as if you were my buddy, rather than the God of the universe who calls me a friend. Help me to develop in my life ways to remember your holiness. Perhaps it could even be taking off my shoes. The point is not the gesture, though. Rather, the point is to be amazed over who you are, to be stunned by your magnificent perfection. Amen.