At beginning of the iconic Burning Bush scene in Exodus 3, God tells Moses to ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ But was that a command – or an invitation?
In the December issue of The Sower (the Anglican Diocese of Calgary’s monthly newspaper), The Rev. John Gishler – Spiritual Director of the Calgary Anglican Cursillo Movement – categorized it as a command.
“In Exodus 3.5 God tells Moses to take his shoes off because he is standing on holy
ground. God did not want him to track his personal spiritual mud into God’s presence,” Gishler wrote in his front-page article summarizing a recent diocesan workshop focused on holiness.
That makes a lot of sense, and it aligns well with the way I’ve always understood this verse in the past. Well phrased, John!
But a few months ago, I was exposed to a different interpretation, and I found myself quite intrigued by it.
Back in September, Michigan Megapastor Kent Dobson suggested in his Here2 sermon, that maybe the shoe-shedding instruction wasn’t merely like Mom telling you to take off your boots so you don’t tarnish her freshly waxed kitchen floor. Maybe it was also an invitation to intimacy. Something like:
‘Take off your sandals so there will be no barrier between your skin and this ground made holy by My Presence, so you can more fully experience Me.’
That’s a pretty attractive notion, isn’t it? And in no way does it undermine Gishler’s ‘spiritual mud’ understanding. I see this very much as a both-and situation, not an either-or.
It suggests that even in the Old Testament, where God’s wrath is often emphasized over His grace – and His role as Provider and Protector over Friend and Comforter – God craved not just obedience from us, but contact with us. And He knew we needed exactly that from Him, and He was willing to give it to us.
With that angle illuminated, this instruction/invitation sounds a bit like something that might have come from the mouth of Jesus – perhaps just before He washed His disciples’ feet.
But let’s get back to Moses.
After Moses removes his sandals, God informs him that he, Moses, will be the instrument of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt and into the Promised Land.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you.” – Exodus 3:11-12a
As I ponder these passages in light of Dobson’s interpretation, I speculate that the preposition ‘with’ in this last promise from God might have been all the more impactful because not even a thin strip of leather separated Moses from God’s holy ground during the encounter. Because Moses obeyed and removed his sandals, he had first-foot knowledge of what it means to have God with him. And maybe that knowledge was a critical ingredient in his ability to do his part to help God free His people.
OK, Baldy. Interesting interpretation. But what does God’s motivation for the de-shoeing of Moses at the Burning Bush, 3,300 years ago, have to do with me today?
Perhaps quite a bit.
During Lent, we explored the reality that God is Everywhere, and in that post I quoted Irish Christian philosopher Peter Rollins‘ startling statement: ‘Every bush is burning.’
If Rollins is right, our lives are saturated with opportunities to encounter God. And if Dobson is right, we, like Moses, need to remember to take off our sandals in order to make the most of them.
We fashion sandals of sarcasm or self-deprecation or false bravado or defensiveness to protect our souls from the jagged rocks and thorns of everyday interaction – in the schoolyard, the locker room, the office or even sometimes at home.
When it comes to human relationships, sandals are sometimes very helpful. Essential, even, depending on the person and the circumstance.
But what if these tools are not only unnecessary when it comes to God? What if they actually get in the way?
Maybe God doesn’t want to make contact with your shoes, He wants to connect with you!
So what are the sandals you wear during your experiences with God? What seemingly insignificant barriers do you unknowingly put between yourself and Him, that inadvertently prevent you from fully experiencing Him?
Maybe God is constantly saying, ‘Welcome! Please come on in. Take off your sandals – and stay awhile!’
Peace be with you.