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"Take Your Sandals Off"--Why?

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When God called to Moses from the burning bush, the first thing God told him was, “Take your sandals off” (Exodus 3:5 Exodus 3:5And he said, Draw not near here: put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place where on you stand is holy ground.
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). Some 40 years later when God appeared to Joshua as the Israelites besieged Jericho, He again said, “Take your sandal off your foot” (Joshua 5:15 Joshua 5:15And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, Loose your shoe from off your foot; for the place where on you stand is holy. And Joshua did so.
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). 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 asked whether He was “for us or for our adversaries” (Joshua 5:13 Joshua 5:13And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went to him, and said to him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries?
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; 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 worshipped. Moses had done the same at the burning bush. Both times God said the ground they were standing on had become holy from His direct presence, and so they were to take off their sandals. A Sign of Reverence and Respect Taking off your sandals was like the old custom of a man taking off his hat when entering a building or greeting a lady—it was a token of respect. The ground was holy because of God’s presence. People were to approach God with solemnity and humility. Taking off their sandals expressed an inward reverence through an outward behavior in their worship. 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 worshippers to take off their shoes (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Exodus 3:5 Exodus 3:5And he said, Draw not near here: put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place where on you stand is holy ground.
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). A common custom in the Orient and for many in North America is to take off your shoes when entering a person’s home. 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 Exodus 28:42And you shall make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach:
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). 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” (emphasis added). Disrespect (possibly helped along by the influence of alcohol) brought the death of Aaron’s sons who ignored due procedure, along with the influence of alcohol (Leviticus 6:13 Leviticus 6:13The fire shall ever be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.
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; 10:1-10). Sloppy service mixed with alcohol for self-aggrandizement was unacceptable. God decorated Israel with jewelry (Ezekiel 16:10-13 Ezekiel 16:10-13 10 I clothed you also with broidered work, and shod you with badgers’ skin, and I girded you about with fine linen, and I covered you with silk. 11 I decked you also with ornaments, and I put bracelets on your hands, and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a jewel on your forehead, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus were you decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; you did eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and you were exceeding beautiful, and you did prosper into a kingdom.
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). 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 Exodus 33:4-6 4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, Say to the children of Israel, You are a stiff necked people: I will come up into the middle of you in a moment, and consume you: therefore now put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what to do to you. 6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
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). Do Rules Matter? Does sincerity or zeal make up for lack of 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 of the Covenant. He was sincere; he was zealous. They even made a new cart to bring it from Abinadab’s home (2 Samuel 6:1-5 2 Samuel 6:1-5 1 Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwells between the cherubim. 3 And they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. 4 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. 5 And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on tambourines, and on cornets, and on cymbals.
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). And David had harps, cymbals and stringed instruments to praise God. Then—the oxen stumbled and rocked the cart, and Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark 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 1 Chronicles 15:2-15 2 Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them has the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister to him for ever. 3 And David gathered all Israel together to Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the LORD to his place, which he had prepared for it. 4 And David assembled the children of Aaron, and the Levites: 5 Of the sons of Kohath; Uriel the chief, and his brothers an hundred and twenty: 6 Of the sons of Merari; Asaiah the chief, and his brothers two hundred and twenty: 7 Of the sons of Gershom; Joel the chief and his brothers an hundred and thirty: 8 Of the sons of Elizaphan; Shemaiah the chief, and his brothers two hundred: 9 Of the sons of Hebron; Eliel the chief, and his brothers fourscore: 10 Of the sons of Uzziel; Amminadab the chief, and his brothers an hundred and twelve. 11 And David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, Asaiah, and Joel, Shemaiah, and Eliel, and Amminadab, 12 And said to them, You are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both you and your brothers, that you may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel to the place that I have prepared for it. 13 For because you did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach on us, for that we sought him not after the due order. 14 So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel. 15 And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD.
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), 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 Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
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). What He established for Moses at the burning bush was no different 40 years later for Joshua at Jericho. Since He is the same today, it means that when we approach God we should have similar reverence as a mark of respect in our worship. Of course we are not directly in God’s presence as Moses and Joshua were. However, we do know the scriptural commands to assemble (Hebrews 10:25 Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
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; Leviticus 23:2 Leviticus 23:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
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), and the Church all through its history has believed that when we come to Sabbath services and God’s Holy Days, we are spiritually entering into God’s presence. So, the question for us is: 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 era 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 too 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 church meetings in today’s world to see a variety of formal, casual and even sloppy dress. The same is true for weddings and funerals, even the opera. But these examples are of this world, and we are called out of the world to reflect God’s culture. Does Church dress matter? Do hairstyles matter? Does it matter how we dress publicly to present special music? These questions are well answered in previous articles now available on our Web site: “Etiquette at Sabbath Services” (Doug Horchak, United News, August 2006, p. 7, www.ucg.org/un/un0608/etiquette.htm). “What Kind of Clothing Is Appropriate to Appear Before God?” (Richard Pinelli, United News, September/October 2006, p. 7, www.ucg.org/un/un0609/clothingappropriate.htm). (These are also included in the United Church of God Welcome Package available to all Canadian congregations. 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 the rest of us, especially at the Festival of Tabernacles.) Our High, Holy and Heavenly Calling The apostle Paul explained that the calling of God is a high and holy calling (Philippians 3:14 Philippians 3:14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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; 2 Timothy 1:9 2 Timothy 1:9Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
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). When we come before His presence at Sabbath services and Holy Days, do we bring the world’s culture with us? Or do we come appropriate in dress and attitude as God intends? Our calling is truly from heaven (Hebrews 3:1 Hebrews 3:1Why, holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
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), and this demands that we approach God reverently, respectfully and humbly. So why did God tell Moses and Joshua to take off their sandals? When in the presence of God, we are to worship Him respectfully His way. UN