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Why Remove Sandals?

by UNC Contributor
Photo by Laya Clode on Unsplash
 

When God called to Moses to approach His appearance in the ‘burning bush,’ the first thing God told him was to ‘take off his sandals!’ (Exodus 3:5). Some forty years later, when God appeared to Joshua as the Israelites besieged Jericho, He again said, ‘take off your sandals’ (Joshua 5:15).

What was God’s purpose in both of these incidents? And how does it relate to us in God’s Church today?

Is God too ‘old school?’

Why would God tell Moses and Joshua to take off their sandals? Is God too picky, too punctilious, too fastidious for our modern generation? As Joshua was surveying the besieged city, he was met by an armed man. Boldly walking up to him Joshua inquired whether he was ‘for us or against us?’ (Joshua 5:13-15; 6:1-2). This Commander of the Lord’s Army was God. When Joshua heard that he immediately fell on his face to the earth and worshiped. This was the same response as Moses at the burning bush. Each time God said the ground they were standing on had become Holy from His direct presence. And they were to ‘take off their sandals.’

A sign of reverence and respect

The putting off of a sandal is like the putting off of a man’s hat today (or it used to be), as a token of respect to a woman. The ground was holy because of Divine presence. People were to approach God with solemnity and humility. Taking off their sandals was an outward expression of an inward reverence. Showing such respect avoids anything casual, sloppy or rude. Some eastern religions today still require bare feet when entering their temples. Anciently the Greeks, in the worship of Diana and Jupiter, required worshipers to take off their shoes (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Exodus 3:5). A common custom in many places when entering a person’s home is to take off your shoes. God has a high standard for approaching Him.

When God established ‘rules and regulations’ for the Priests and Levites in the service of the Tabernacle, He specified a lofty standard of propriety. Male priestly dress had to ensure no ‘unsightly’ flesh areas be exposed (Exodus 28:42 & 20:26). The high priest had ‘bells’ on his garment. Adam Clarke’s Commentary says: “His sound shall be heard - The bells were doubtless intended to keep up the people’s attention to the very solemn and important office which the priest was then performing, that they might all have their hearts engaged in the work; and at the same time to keep Aaron himself in remembrance that he ministered before Jehovah, and should not come into his presence without due reverence.

Disrespect brought the death of Aaron’s sons who ignored due procedure, along with the influence of alcohol (Leviticus 6:8-13; 10:1-10). Sloppy service mixed with alcohol for self aggrandizement was unacceptable.

God decorated Israel with jewelry (Ezekiel 16:10-13). But in times of sin and God’s wrath, they were to take off their ‘ornaments’ to show evidence of contrite hearts, humility and reverence (Exodus 33:4-6). Do rules matter?

Does sincerity or zeal negate obedience? King David learned a hard lesson in neglecting how God’s presence was to be approached. When he was finally established as king in Jerusalem, David determined to bring up the Ark. He was sincere, he was zealous. They even made a new cart to bring it from Abinadab’s home (2 Samuel 6:1-5). And David had harps, cymbals and stringed instruments to praise God. Then…..the oxen stumbled…rocked the cart, and Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark and prevent it from falling over. He may have done this quite involuntarily. But at that instant God struck him dead! And David was angry about the tragedy. So they left the Ark at another home while David sought guidance on what to do.

With reflection and study David came to see he had been ignorant of God’s clear Levitical rules for transporting the Ark. After thoroughly addressing ‘correct procedures’ (1 Chronicles 15:2-15), David then successfully brought the Ark of God up to Jerusalem.

God’s calling is a high one.

How does this relate to us today? God is the ‘same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). What He established for Moses at the burning bush was no different forty years later for Joshua at Jericho. Since He is the same today, it means that when we approach God we should have similar reverence to ‘take off our cultural sandals’ as a mark of respect in our worship. It is understood we are not directly in God’s presence as was Moses and Joshua. However, we do know Scripture commands us to assemble (Hebrews 10:25; Leviticus 23), and the Church all through its history has believed that when we come to Sabbath services and God’s Holydays we are spiritually entering into God’s presence. So, the question for us: Do we bring the world’s culture into God’s worship? Or, do we worship God in the way He has provided?

God’s worship requirements for the New Testament are taught through His Church. We show reverence for God and His Church by observing Biblical rules, customs and traditions. Occasionally some seek to justify a more lax attitude by claiming that ‘modern culture’ is casual and relaxed. Summer weather can be blamed by saying it is hot, and surely God would want us to feel comfortable when we worship. We know too that it is common in worldly church meetings to see a variety of formal and casual, and even sloppy dress. The same is true for weddings and funerals, even the opera. But they are of the world, and we are called out of the world to reflect God’s culture.

Does Church dress matter? Do hair styles matter? Does it matter how we dress publicly to present special music? These questions are well answered in our United Church of God Welcome package available to all Canadian Churches. It is intended to help new people who attend with us to know what God’s culture requires at church services. It is also a good review for we who are regular in attendance, especially at the Festival of Tabernacles. The Welcome package includes what the United Church of God teaches on this topic: Etiquette at Sabbath Services: On time; In the hall during hymns; Loitering during services; Noise; Children; Cell phones; Computer games; Conversation; Clothing

What Kind of Clothing Is Appropriate to Appear Before God? Clothing and worship; Appearance counts; Standards; Offenses (Richard Pinelli, United News, September/October 2006). Feast Brochure: At each Feast there is a page of Etiquette For Services covering many of the above points.

Our high, holy and heavenly calling

The apostle Paul explained that the calling of God is a high and holy calling (Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:9). When we come before His presence at Sabbath services and Holydays, do we bring the world’s culture with us? Or, do we come in appropriate dress and attitude as God intends? Our calling is truly from ‘heaven’ (Hebrews 3:1), and this demands that we approach God reverently, respectfully, and humbly.

So why take off their sandals? When in the presence of God we are to worship His Way.

It is positive overcoming to rise above the casualness and slackness of today’s worldly culture.

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