Digging in Deeper: Exodus 3:5-6

“‘Do not come any closer,’ he said. ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he continued, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Do you have some people with whom you can just be yourself? You can let your hair down, relax, and drop all the walls or masks you keep up when you’re around people you don’t know as well. All of us need someone like this…maybe a few of them. It would be nice to think that the person who knows us best in the world is someone like this. And, in Jesus, we do have a friend like this in God. At the same time, though, we can’t forget who God is. Moses was reminded of this here. Let’s talk about his experience and what it might mean for us.

I get cold feet. Now, that could probably apply to a number of different things, but I actually mean it literally. My feet get cold. They get cold, at least, when I don’t wear shoes. I don’t know why it is, but without the insulating effect of having shoes on my feet, it’s always and only a matter of time before they start getting cold and achy. It’s probably because I’m getting old. Or perhaps it’s my body getting revenge for the fact that in college I went barefoot everywhere. On days when the weather was warm enough, I would slip a pair of worn out flip-flops in the side of my backpack and go. Unless I was riding my bike. I always wear shoes on a bike. But if I was on foot, they were bare. But I digress…

The reason I start there is to say that I hate taking my shoes off now until I’m ready to shower and call it a night. When I wake up on most morning, I put on shoes from almost the moment I get out of bed. Even in the summer. There are some places, though, where my preference for being shod all the time would be problematic.

The problem would be that it is considered deeply impolite to your host to wear shoes inside in many other cultures. I had the opportunity to travel to Japan for a couple of weeks in high school. In Japan, most houses and even some businesses have a place right near the door for you to put your shoes because they don’t go in the house on your feet. At home, you might have a special pair of sandals that you wear inside, but you almost certainly don’t wear your shoes. It is a matter of showing respect for your host.

As Moses drew near to the burning bush that wasn’t burning from which God called his name, the first thing the Lord said to him was to tell him to take off his shoes. The reason was that he was standing on holy ground. He was in the presence of the holy and righteous creator of the universe. He needed to approach Him in a manner that was properly deferential. Given that there really wasn’t anything more that he could do given that this whole experience caught him completely off guard, the very least he could do was to take off his shoes.

Living in a culture that generally doesn’t require this, it may seem strange. The move was a symbolic one. Your shoes have been protecting your feet all day. By taking them off, you are symbolically making yourself more vulnerable. It is a sign of the respect and trust you have of your host to take care of and provide for your needs. Your shoes are also covered in the dust and dirt that you have been walking around in all day. You don’t want to bring what has made you unclean inside another person’s clean house. You want to give them your best, most holy self, not the one covered in who knows what.

For Moses here, taking off his shoes was a sign of submission to God. It is not clear, though, that Moses would have known this God very well yet. His father-in-law was the priest of Midian, but that doesn’t tell us anything about which god he served. Before that Moses was raised in the palace of Pharaoh. If he had been taught anything about the God of the Hebrews, it would have likely only been in belittling or mocking terms. Perhaps he had learned something about the God of his people when he discovered how they were being treated and took up their cause before his actions to do so got him run out of town, but we’re not told that in the text. God’s telling him to take off his shoes when entering HIs holy presence was a way of establishing out of the gate with this man He intended to shape into one of His most significant servants ever the kind of God He was.

If Moses had been allowed to think even the slightest bit flippantly about God in these initial, foundation-building moments, then he was going to be far less likely to really trust or obey His commands when it mattered later. God was going to take him into some decidedly dangerous places in the coming years. Moses absolutely needed to know that when God spoke He meant business. He was not a God to be trifled with. He was a God to be feared and obeyed.

We dare not miss this point in our own lives. We still serve the holy and righteous God who created the world and everything in it. His holiness is absolute and terrifying. Sin and evil cannot exist in His presence. His glory will burn away any unrighteousness in those who would approach Him. If they are all unrighteousness, they will be consumed entirely. None can stand before Him. All are humbled and laid low in His sight. He is still a God to be feared and obeyed. We absolutely must take Him with the utmost of seriousness or we will one day pay the ultimate price for our flippancy.

At the same time, though, no sooner had God established His withering holiness by commanding Moses to remove his shoes than He said something else to introduce Himself that completely changed the picture. He identified Himself to Moses as the God of his father, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When reading along in the story, we take this as a matter of course, but the truth is that this is a point at which we should sit up and take notice.

The God who is unapproachable in holiness is also the personal God of people. What’s more, He calls those people by name. This means He knows them. There’s still even more. These people He said He knows were long since dead. But He still knew them. “I am their God,” He said, not, “I was their God.” He knows them so well that His knowledge of them extended even beyond the grave. This is a depth of intimacy that is difficult to fathom. Not many people know us so well as this. Yet this was the holy and righteous God of the universe who knew them so thoroughly. Why would a God so mighty and powerful as this care enough to know such an insignificant creature so intimately as this?

Because in addition to being utterly transcendent, our God is also absolutely immanent. He is great and far, but He is also humble and near. He not only knows us, but He wants to know us. And He wants us to know Him. He wants to share His heart with us and hear all of ours. He loves us perfectly and completely and wants us to have the same experience of Him.

Friends, what other god is like this? There is not one. All other gods are fabricated out of human imagination and as a result invariably lean too far in one direction or the other. They are either all transcendent and cannot meaningfully be approached by people in the kind of relationship we need, or else they are all immanent and are thus not worthy of our worship at the end of the day. But the God revealed in the pages of the Scriptures is the perfect balance of both. He is absolutely worthy of our worship. He is great and powerful and holy and righteous. But He desires to be our friend. He knows us with an intimacy that not even our closest friend has, and wants to share as much of Himself with us as well. By existing as Father, Son, and Spirit, He is able to be all of these things and more. He was all of these things when He first introduced Himself to Moses, and He is still the same today. He is a God who is worthy of the gift of our devotion. He is worthy of the gift of our very lives.

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