Exodus 3:5
And 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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(5) Put off thy shoes.—Rather, thy sandals. It is doubtful whether shoes were known at this early date. They would certainly not have been worn in Midian. Egyptians before the time of Moses, and Orientals generally, in ancient (as in modern) times, removed their sandals (or their shoes) from their feet on entering any place to which respect was due, as a temple, a palace, and even the private house of a great man. It is worthy of notice that God Himself orders this mark of respect to be shown to the place which His Presence has hallowed. On the reverence due to holy places, see the Note on Genesis 28:16-17.

Exodus 3:5. Draw not nigh hither — Keep thy distance. Thus God checks his curiosity and forwardness, and disposes his mind to the greater reverence and humility. Put off thy shoes from thy feet — This is required as a token of his reverence for the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present; of his humiliation for his sins, which rendered him unworthy to appear before God; of his putting away all sin in his walk or conversation; and of his submission and readiness to obey God’s will; for which reason slaves were wont to approach their masters barefooted. We find the same direction given to Joshua, for the same reason, Joshua 5:15. And it seems not improbable that putting off the shoes, as a sign of humiliation and veneration, was a ceremony observed by the patriarchs in their religious worship. Buxtorf says, that to this day the Jews go to their synagogues barefoot on the day of atonement, (Jud. Synag., c. 30, p. 57,) and many learned men suppose that the priests officiated barefoot in the tabernacle and temple. The custom of treading barefoot in holy places seems to have been general in the East: the Egyptians used it: and Pythagoras, who recommends to his disciples to worship, putting off their shoes, (ανυποδητος προσκυνει,) is thought to have learned this rite from them. The Mohammedans observe this ceremony at the present time, as do also the Christians of Abyssinia. The truth seems to be, as Henry observes, that putting off the shoes was then what putting off the hat is now, a token of respect and submission. The ground is holy — Not absolutely, but in relation to him who sanctified it by this peculiar manifestation of his presence. We ought to approach to God with a solemn pause and preparation; and to express our inward reverence by a grave and reverent behaviour in the worship of God, carefully avoiding every thing that looks light or rude.3:1-6 The years of the life of Moses are divided into three forties; the first forty he spent as a prince in Pharaoh's court, the second as a shepherd in Midian, the third as a king in Jeshurun. How changeable is the life of man! The first appearance of God to Moses, found him tending sheep. This seems a poor employment for a man of his parts and education, yet he rests satisfied with it; and thus learns meekness and contentment, for which he is more noted in sacred writ, than for all his learning. Satan loves to find us idle; God is pleased when he finds us employed. Being alone, is a good friend to our communion with God. To his great surprise, Moses saw a bush burning without fire to kindle it. The bush burned, and yet did not burn away; an emblem of the church in bondage in Egypt. And it fitly reminds us of the church in every age, under its severest persecutions kept by the presence of God from being destroyed. Fire is an emblem, in Scripture, of the Divine holiness and justice, also of the afflictions and trials with which God proves and purifies his people, and even of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, by which sinful affections are consumed, and the soul changed into the Divine nature and image. God gave Moses a gracious call, to which he returned a ready answer. Those that would have communion with God, must attend upon him in the ordinances wherein he is pleased to manifest himself and his glory, though it be in a bush. Putting off the shoe was a token of respect and submission. We ought to draw nigh to God with a solemn pause and preparation, carefully avoiding every thing that looks light and rude, and unbecoming his service. God does not say, I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but I am. The patriarchs still live, so many years after their bodies have been in the grave. No length of time can separate the souls of the just from their Maker. By this, God instructed Moses as to another world, and strengthened his belief of a future state. Thus it is interpreted by our Lord Jesus, who, from hence, proves that the dead are raised, Lu 20:37. Moses hid his face, as if both ashamed and afraid to look upon God. The more we see of God, and his grace, and covenant love, the more cause we shall see to worship him with reverence and godly fear.Put off thy shoes - The reverence due to holy places thus rests upon God's own command. The custom itself is well known from the observances of the temple, it was almost universally adopted by the ancients, and is retained in the East.

Holy ground - This passage is almost conclusive against the assumption that the place was previously a sanctuary. Moses knew nothing of its holiness after some 40 years spent on the Peninsula. It became holy by the presence of God.

5. put off thy shoes—The direction was in conformity with a usage which was well known to Moses, for the Egyptian priests observed it in their temples, and it is observed in all Eastern countries where the people take off their shoes or sandals, as we do our hats. But the Eastern idea is not precisely the same as the Western. With us, the removal of the hat is an expression of reverence for the place we enter, or rather of Him who is worshipped there. With them the removal of the shoes is a confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness. Draw not nigh hither; keep thy distance; whereby he checks his curiosity and forwardness, and works him to the greater reverence and humility. Compare Exodus 19:12,21 Jos 5:15.

Put off thy shoes: this he requires as an act and token,

1. Of his reverence to the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present.

2. Of his humiliation for his sins, whereby he was unfit and unworthy to appear before God; for this was a posture of humiliation, 2 Samuel 15:30 Isaiah 20:2,4 Eze 24:17,23.

3. Of purification from the filth of his feet, or ways, or conversation, that he might be more fit to approach to God. See John 13:10 Hebrews 10:22.

4. Of this submission and readiness to obey God’s will, for which reason slaves used to be bare-footed.

Holy ground; with a relative holiness at this time, because of my special presence in it. And he said, draw not nigh hither,.... Keep a proper distance:

put off thy shoes from off thy feet; dust and dirt cleaving to shoes, and these being ordered to be put off from the feet, the instrument of walking, show that those that draw nigh to God, and are worshippers of him, ought to be of pure and holy lives and conversations:

for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground; not that there was any inherent holiness in this spot of ground more than in any other, which ground is not capable of; but a relative holiness on account of the presence of God here at this time, and was not permanent, only while a pure and holy God was there: hence, in after times, the temple being the place of the divine residence, the priests there performed their services barefooted, nor might a common person enter into the temple with his shoes on (k); and to this day the Jews go to their synagogues barefooted on the day of atonement (l), to which Juvenal (m) seems to have respect; and from hence came the Nudipedalia among the Heathens, and that known symbol of Pythagoras (n), "sacrifice and worship with naked feet": in this manner the priests of Diana sacrificed to her among the Cretians and other people (o); and so the priests of Hercules did the same (p); the Brahmans among the Indians never go into their temples without plucking off their shoes (q); so the Ethiopian Christians, imitating Jews and Gentiles, never go into their places of public worship but with naked feet (r), and the same superstition the Turks and Mahometans observe (s).

(k) Misn. Beracot, c. 9. sect. 5. (l) Buxtorf. Jud Synagog. c. 30. p. 571. (m) "Observant ub. festa mero pede Sabbata reges." Satyr. 6. (n) Jamblichus de Vita Pythagor. Symbol. 3.((o) Solin. Polyhistor. c. 16. Strabo, l. 12. p. 370. (p) Silius de Bello Punic, l. 3.((q) Rogerius de Relig. Brachman. l. 2. c. 10. apud Braunium de vest. sacerdot. l. 1. c. 3. p. 66. (r) Damianus a Goes apud Rivet. in loc. (s) Pitts's Account of the Relig. and Manners of the Mahometans, c. 6. p. 38. 81. Georgieviz. de Turc. Moribus, c. 1. p. 11. Sionita de Urb. Oriental. & Relig. c. 7. p. 18. c. 10. p. 34.

And he said, Draw not nigh hither: {e} put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is {f} holy ground.

(e) Resign yourself to me; Ru 4:7, Jos 5:15.

(f) Because of my presence.

5. shoes] properly (as always) sandals. Cf. Joshua 5:15 (J). The removal of the sandals is still the usual mark of reverence, upon entering a mosque, or other holy place, in the East.Verse 5. - Draw not nigh. The awful greatness of the Creator is such that his creatures, until invited to draw near, are bound to stand aloof. Moses, not yet aware that God himself spoke to him, was approaching the bush too close, to examine and see what the "great thing" was. (See ver. 3.) On the general unfitness of man to approach near to holy things, see the comment on Exodus 19:12. Put off thy shoes. Rather, "thy sandals." Shoes were not worn commonly, even by the Egyptians, until a late period, and would certainly not be known in the land of Midian at this time. The practice of putting them off before entering a temple, a palace, or even the private apartments of a house, was, and is, universal in the East - the rationale of it being that the shoes or sandals have dust or dirt attaching to them. The command given to Moses at this time was repeated to Joshua (Joshua 5:15). Holy ground. Literally, "ground of holiness " - ground rendered holy by the presence of God upon it - not "an old sanctuary," as some have thought, for then Moses would not have needed the information. Exodus - The God of thy father. "Father" here is used collectively, meaning forefathers generally, a usage well known to Hebraists. (Compare Exodus 15:2, antioch, 18:4.) The God of Abraham, etc., i.e. the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and entered into covenant with them (Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 35:1-12). The conclusion which our Blessed Lord drew from this verse (Matthew 22:32) is not directly involved in it, but depends on his minor premiss, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Moses hid his face. A natural instinctive action. So Elijah, on the same site (1 Kings 19:13) and the holy angels before God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:2). In the religious system of Rome, the augurs when discharging their office, and all persons when offering a sacrifice, veiled their heads. (See Liv. 1:18; Virg. Aen. 3:405; Juv. 6:390.) "God heard their crying, and remembered His covenant with the fathers: "and God saw the children of Israel, and God noticed them." "This seeing and noticing had regard to the innermost nature of Israel, namely, as the chosen seed of Abraham" (Baumgarten). God's notice has all the energy of love and pity. Lyra has aptly explained ויּדע thus: "ad modum cognoscentis se habuit, ostendendo dilectionem circa eos;" and Luther has paraphrased it correctly: "He accepted them."
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