As part of their cultural practice, many societies across the world require people entering someone’s house to remove their shoes in an act of humility and respect.
Moses lived as a sheepherder in Midian. One day he discovered a bush which burned with fire but did not consume itself.
God spoke to Moses from that burning bush and instructed him to remove his sandals. Why did He instruct Moses in this manner?
The Burning Bush
The story of Moses and the Burning Bush is an impressive display of Divine power, when God revealed Himself with fire. It marks one of four such instances throughout Scripture and set up God to be present as Israel ventured deeper into their journey to reach their Promised Land.
As Moses approached a burning but unconsumed bush, he was struck by its unique qualities. This strange event seemed remarkable to Moses at first but later revealed itself to be the starting point for his mission of liberation of his people from their bonds.
God told Moses to stay at a distance and remove his sandals, as an act of reverence and respect. In ancient culture, taking off your shoes when entering any house was customary for religious sites; Moses was given special treatment by taking off his sandals; this recognition from God confirmed Moses as their leader and protector.
Moses removed his shoes to better comprehend what was transpiring and the nature of the Divine vision that was about to appear before him. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that what Moses saw was in fact the Uncreated Energies/Glory of God – this theme can be found throughout Greek Orthodox theologians like John S. Romanides writings.
Note also that Hebrew word for sandals, seneh, contains the root letters N-Sh-L (shalom, peace). When one letter drops out it becomes “to slip off.” Moses did just this when He removed his sandals – an indication that He had come directly and personally into Moses’ life as Lord of Heaven’s Hosts.
As soon as Moses was ready, he turned around and looked at the burning bush before hearing God say: “I am the God of your fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Angel of the Lord
Many believe that God instructed Moses to remove his sandals due to the Middle Eastern custom of taking off one’s shoes in the presence of royalty or god. While this practice was commonplace among ancient Near East cultures, God’s order to Moses to take off his sandals had deeper implications; by giving up ownership over him and his people to Him alone – an act like a slave giving up their right of self-assertion over their master – taking off his sandals marked his submission and submission as one to His ownership over both.
Notably, when the phrase “Angel of the Lord” appears in Scripture it always refers to one individual – often seen representing God through several key Old Testament accounts such as Exodus 3 story, Red Sea crossing and God’s promise that His angel would lead Israel into Canaan (Joshua 5:6; Genesis 23:20-23).
The New Testament contains 12 references to “Angels of the Lord,” though careful examination of each passage reveals that none are intended to teach that Jesus or any other angels are God; rather, their context identifies Angel as prophet or messenger rather than as an all-powerful being.
Scholars have speculated that this Angel could represent Christ, who exists eternally as Son and God and has now taken physical form on earth as the Messiah. Although not shared by all Christians, this view seems supported by evidence presented thus far in this study.
That is why Moses’ command to remove his shoes was so profound and significant: It wasn’t simply an act of cultural tradition but instead was meant as an act of surrender and submission before God. For to do otherwise would have meant transference of His holiness onto dirt around the bush and onto Moses himself – exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted Moses to be wary about!
The Presence of God
The presence of God can be an intimidating force, one that causes people to fear for their lives. Adam and Eve fled from Him in Eden Garden; Isaiah wept for death during an outpouring; disciples became fearful on a storm-tossed boat; but at other times His presence can bring comfort, joy, and peace; this was what Moses felt when encountering the burning bush, Abraham Jacob shared their feasts at Canaan with their Israelites tribe ancestors, as well as believers entering into His Presence each time we encounter our Savior – Jesus Christ himself!
Hebrew scholars use the term “presence” to refer to an actual person, not an object or place. When God appeared as the burning bush, this meant He had come specifically for Moses to meet.
As soon as the Lord appeared on Mount Horeb, He issued two commands that symbolized its holiness: “Keep back” and “Take off your shoes.” These words refer to its temporary but sanctified state that exists when He arrives with His message; similarly to why orientalers take off their shoes when entering homes while westerners remove their hats when entering places of worship.
God finished His message and left the mountain, yet His holiness still pervaded the atmosphere as His presence continued to fill it. We experience it when we encounter Jesus, while in heaven He reigns supreme over all creation. Angels experience Him too – as do believers here on Earth who still experience its power and beauty today! It’s an inspiring presence filled with the beauty and power of an eternally-existent being: majestic power and dominion, perfect holiness and infinite love – an unforgettable encounter indeed!
The Sign of Repentance
There are multiple interpretations of Moses being ordered to remove his sandals as an act of reverence; in certain cultures people remove their shoes before entering houses or mosques as the floors are considered holy; others see this command as an expression of humility as poorer people often don’t wear footwear – in this instance God told Moses to remove his footwear as the ground where he stood was sacred ground.
Another way of considering it is as a sign of repentance. The word metamelomai in Greek describes those overcome with sorrow, guilt or regret and those seeking forgiveness from God for past sins. Someone truly repentant will recognize the gravity of their wrongdoing while desiring to turn away from it voluntarily and ask Him for mercy and pardon for past transgressions.
Keep in mind that, when God summoned Moses to come near, He also told him to remove his sandals as an indication of needing repentance. This action from God clearly indicated Moses needed to repent of his sins.
On hearing these words, Moses must have felt distraught. He knew he had committed sins against the Lord and realized if he failed to repent soon he could be removed from His presence altogether.
Once Moses removed his shoes, he prepared himself for encountering God. At that moment, He revealed Himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors – reminding him of their covenant and its implications. Moses realized its significance for himself and vowed his allegiance to this covenant that had been made centuries earlier.
Examining God’s command to Moses to take off his sandals reveals something more significant than simply repentance: He was encouraging Moses to put behind old habits and embark upon a life as God’s servant.