Travel anywhere having to go through an airport and you see one common sight going through security checkpoints… people removing their shoes in order to proceed. As Moses approached the Burning Bush, God instructed him to do the same thing (Exodus 3:5). BTW, the same thing happens to Joshua as he encounters God (Joshua 5:15).
I have known many people from different cultures, from the Middle East, to North Africa, to Asia, and one common thread when entering a person’s home is to remove your shoes. It is not only an issue of cleanliness (eliminating mud, dirt, filth and whatever one perhaps stepped on) but it is also a sign of respect. Moses needed to stand before God in respect and recognition that he stood on God’s turf. If we refuse to remove our shoes, it is an insult to the homeowner; let’s not insist on having our own way.
Literally and Figuratively:
In Africa, I was amazed at the locals ability to walk around barefoot. Whenever I tried to “go native” there was hot pavement, sharp stones, and all sorts of debris that caused me pain. Shoes protect you from feeling thorns, stones and debris found on the road. So, when you walk down the road barefoot, you feel everything you step on. When you walk down the road in shoes, you pass along quite easily, oblivious to what could be painful to others without shoes.
At this appointment service for Moses, he was commanded to remove his shoes. Perhaps God wanted him to walk through life “barefoot” so that he could feel and understand every bit of pain and sorrow his people experienced. Moses could not isolate himself from the plight of his people. He could not put on his figurative shoes of indifference, caring for himself, at the cost of feeling the distress of God’s people. We also should take off our shoes of apathy and be sensitive to opportunities to do kindness to others.
When it comes to shoe removal, it seems that as Moses stood there on the mountain, in the presence of God, there was a thin strip of leather that came between Moses and the Holy Ground. The shoes were a man-made and self-imposed barrier, and God wanted Moses to actually touch the holy ground in order to experience the transference of holiness to his chosen leader. Touch is a powerful method and symbol of transference (Exodus 29:10, Leviticus 16:21-22, Acts 13:2-3) and God wanted nothing between them, even something so insignificant as a shoe.
Since God said to remove the shoes, we might think that to be a rather silly request or requirement, but there is a simple truth here; we cannot come to God on our own terms. We come to God only on his terms. There is no self-style worship or obedience allowed. Also, when you think about the greatness of God, aren’t we supposed to stand there feeling rather insignificant? Is there anything more emotionally humiliating that standing barefoot while everyone else is dressed up for a black-tie event? We come before God in humility, not strutting into his presence any way we feel like it.
Maybe we all should come to worship with bare feet.