Called To Take Off Our Shoes

Posted by

(Here’s a recent message I gave to our local congregation.)

Do you love shoes? Filipinos are known to love shoes. We might have gotten that notoriety when our former First Lady, Imelda Marcos left behind 3,000 pairs of shoes when they were forced to leave office in 1986. These includes famous brands like Gucci, Charles Jourdan, Christian Dior, Ferragamo, Chanel and Prada.

During Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on June 2, 1953, she wore a custom-made shoes by French shoemaker Roger Vivier. It was made out of gold leather with real rubies studding its heels. Besides its luxurious design, the shoes had to be comfortable, as the queen need to stand for 3 hours during the ceremony.

You probably heard about the recent movie, titled “Air” where in Nike pursued Michael Jordan to be the face for their new line of shoes back in the 1980’s, which became the iconic brand for Nike. The shoes he wore during the 1998 NBA finals was sold in an auction for $2.2 million (photo below) making it the most expensive sneakers auctioned. In 2010 when the basketball team that Michael Jordan owns, the Charlotte Bobcats, was doing poorly, he ordered his players to take off their Nike Jordan shoes during their practice, as if saying to them that they have to play better for them to wear those iconic shoes.

Today, we will talk about shoes, but more specifically, removing our shoes.

Let’s read: Exodus 3: 1-5 NKJV

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 

What is the setting of this story? Moses escaped from Egypt, and has been exiled in the Midian desert for 40 years. In the wilderness, he had to unlearn all what he had learned as a prince of Egypt in their schools and their universities. But God was teaching Moses more important things he needed to learn to lead His people – that is patience, and more importantly to rely solely in God.

After 40 years in the wilderness tending sheep, which were not even his own, for they were his father-in-law’s, Moses was a broken man. From being a prominent prince in Egypt, to a lowly shepherd and a fugitive. His self-confidence was as low as the dirt.

My friends, sometimes God has to break us to prepare us for something great.

Then one day, he saw something interesting. From the mundane of leading the sheep to follow him every day, watching them eat and hearing them bleat “baaa,” or gazing at the boring barren terrain of the desert for 40 years, he witnessed something exciting. He saw a bush on fire and yet not being burned up. He was spellbound.

When I first came to the US, I arrived in California. Then a family friend took me to Las Vegas which is 4 hours drive from California passing through boring and dull dessert. But when we arrived in Las Vegas, oh the dazzling neon lights, the dancing fountains, the beautiful architecture and buildings, and whatever it is that Las Vegas is known for – I was mesmerized. Come to think of it, this place is in the middle of the desert! Though I think a fiery bush without being burned up is also captivating to watch.

Where did this happen by the way? No, I’m not talking about Las Vegas anymore, what I mean is the location where Moses saw the fiery bush. It was in Horeb, which is called in this passage as the “mountain of God.” Why is it named mountain of God? Horeb is also called Mount Sinai, and we all know what happened later in Mount Sinai.

As Moses was mesmerized with the sight, he went closer to check it out. And that’s when he heard God’s voice calling him, “Moses, Moses, do not come any closer. Take off your shoes, for the ground you are standing on is holy.”

What type of shoes was Moses wearing? Was it a steel-toe heavy-duty work boots? Not quite. From Bible research and from ancient art and artifacts found in archeological diggings, it was discovered that the ancient sandals were made from flat sole of leather, wood or other fibrous material strapped to the foot by laces usually made from natural leather thongs passing between the big toe and second toe, around the heel and over the top of the foot.

There are many references in the Bible that mention about shoes or sandals. Here are some:

“How beautiful your feet are in your sandals” (Song of Solomon 7:1) Even in Biblical times, a good footwear can make you look sexy.

“While I kept guiding you for 40 years in the wilderness, your garments did not wear out on you and your sandals did not wear out on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:5)

Can you imagine that? The Israelites’ sandals did not wear out even after walking for 40 years in the wilderness. That must be really sturdy sandals! Better than Birkenstock. But then again, that’s probably more of God’s miracle.

“I, for my part, baptize you with water because of your repentance, but the one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not worthy to take off. That one will baptize you with holy spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11)

To unloose the shoe was often the work of a servant. So when John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to take off Jesus’ sandals, he was saying that he was not even worthy to be Jesus’ servant.

And in our story today: “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

It appears that in the Bible, one of the important aspect about shoes is when it is being taken off. What is the implication of being barefooted in Biblical times?

One is the lack of social status. Wearing shoes was a privilege not available to all people at that time. Servants are barefooted. In Biblical account, as in Isaiah 20, the prisoners and captives that were taken were also barefooted. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son who squandered all his inheritance? When he return home and was restored to his previous status, one of the thing that he was given besides the robe and ring, were shoes for his feet. So friends, you should feel privileged to be wearing shoes today.

The other significance of going barefoot is it connotes humility and grief. When King David was fleeing his son Absalom who was trying to overthrow his kingdom (2 Sam 15), in addition to covering his head he also went barefoot, not to facilitate his escape but to show grief.

The last implication of being barefoot is the reference to the Divine or Holy which we will study more deeper.

Why did Moses have to take off his shoes? By the way it is not just Moses who was instructed to remove his shoes, Joshua (Joshua 5) when he met a man who called himself “commander of the army of the Lord.” was also instructed to remove his shoes.

The obvious answer was he was standing in a holy ground. Do you know that priests in the Bible, when they perform their duties inside the temple, they were barefooted to show reverence to the holiness of the place. They were taking off what can be considered earthly and profane when they approach the holy.

When we visited Hawaii a few months ago, when we attended church, there was a deacon that when he was receiving the tithes and offering, I noticed that he was barefooted. I thought it was a Hawaiian thing as he must be a local to the island and they are used to being barefoot, but when I asked our friend later, she said that deacon normally wears shoes, but will always go barefoot inside the church to show reverence.

How about us? Do we show reverence in the House of God? I’m not saying we should take off our shoes, but off course you can if you’re impressed to do it, but at least let’s walk softly and act reverently when we are inside the sanctuary.

Some scholars suggests that the problem was with Moses’ sandals. Sandals, being fashioned from animal skins, were considered impure. Of course, from walking everywhere, shoes can get dirty from mud, dust, and animal dung. With lots of sheep around Moses, it is not impossible to think he might have step on something he does not want to step on. I think he would remove those sandals anyway when he enters his home.

Speaking of removing your shoes when entering a home, there are certain cultures in the world, especially many Asian cultures, including Filipino homes, that it is customary to remove your shoes when you enter their home. Besides the apparent sanitary reason, more often it is beyond that. Removing your shoes is a sign of respect and submission. American culture usually don’t ask their guest to take off their shoes. But don’t get offended if in some homes you are asked to remove your shoes.

More than showing respect and submission, taking off the shoes also represents a renunciation of any claims to possession. The culture of that day, during a land sale, the transfer of deed was confirmed by the prior owner lifting his foot off the land and the new owner or heir would lay claim to it by stamping his foot down asserting his right to own the land.

In the story of Ruth, when Boaz asked the nearest remaining kin of Elimelech who died, since he was the “kinsmen redeemer” he has to buy back the land from Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, though with that responsibility was also marrying Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law who was also a widow, to perpetuate the lineage of the dead relatives. However the kinsmen redeemer said he cannot do it, so what did he do? He remove his shoe and gave it to Boaz, symbolizing he was releasing his claim.

Lifting the foot or stripping off the shoe symbolize the same thing – release of any claim to the land. So when Moses removed his shoes, he was acknowledging that no man, but God alone can claim this holy ground. God alone is the owner of the place, called the mountain of God.

Moses removing his shoes signified a forfeiting of his comforts, his claim and his rights, it is also showing his willingness to obey and surrender his past, present, and future to the God who equips. Are we willing to surrender our comforts and rights to God? Do we acknowledge that we come with nothing, and only God can equip us?

Another reason why God wants Moses to remove his shoes is he wants him to remove all his pretensions, all his false virtues, all self reliance, all his pride – for he wants to commune with him with no barrier. God wants Moses to stand with his bare feet directly on the ground, the very ground where God is also standing. No barrier. Today, God still wants to fellowship with us with no barriers.

On March 10, 1876, the first telephone call was made. It’s kind of hard to imagine now when there’s no telephone as each one of us carry a phone on our pocket today. But the first telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone itself and he called his assistant Thomas Watson who was in the other room. Do you know what he said over the phone? The signal was crackly and hardly perceptible but it was intelligible- this is what he said: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Even Alexander Graham Bell wants to talk to his assistant in person. No barrier. And that’s how God wants to commune with us. No barrier.

What is the status of Moses when this happened? According to his own declaration in Exodus 2:22, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.” The Egyptian Pharaoh sought to kill him; he was a runaway from Egypt. His own people, the Hebrews rejected him as one of their own. The Midianites where Moses was staying with for the past 40 years sees him as a foreigner. So Moses was not fully home in any human community. So when God called him to take off his shoes as if he was entering a home which is the common practice in that Middle Eastern culture, Moses is being welcomed home. Home with God who said after he took off his shoes, “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” God is telling Moses, I am your God, welcome home my wandering child.

Have you been wandering aimlessly my friend? Have you been running away for so long? Have you wandered far, far away from God? God is calling you home. This is where you belong, with Him.

The last point I want to make is that Moses after removing his shoes was given a mission. That is to lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses was kind of overwhelmed with the thought. But God assured Moses, as he was standing barefooted just like a servant, that He would always be with him. That he would be a messenger for God. And when they asked him whose authority he was sent, he would tell them that he was sent by God whose name is I AM WHO I AM.

There is a deeper meaning to this. Moses was a messenger not the redeemer. Many times Moses is used in Scripture as a type (or picture) of the Law, because it was Moses who received the 10 Commandments in Mount Sinai. But we know the Law can never be the means by which men may reach heaven, that is, we can’t enter heaven by works of the Law. Moses is used frequently as a picture of this truth.

For example, we know that Moses wasn’t permitted to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Instead, Moses died in the desert, and Joshua (which is Yeshua in Hebrew or Jesus in Greek) was the one to lead the Israelites into Canaan. Through this example, we see how Moses was used as a type of the Law, in the way the Law cannot lead men to heaven, only Yeshua (Jesus) can. Paul said this clearly in his letter to the Romans. Salvation is only through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Just like in the story of Ruth, as a redeemer, Moses was unable to save. In that sense, Moses “removed his sandals” and it was left to God to be the redeemer of Israel and all men. Moses was not the kinsmen redeemer. God is our kinsmen redeemer. He alone can save us.


I would like to end with a personal story.

I did not have the privilege to see any of my grandfathers for they died way early even before I was born. I learned though from my mother that his father, my grandfather, was a migrant worker to Hawaii. I have a migrant blood in me after all.

My grandfather was one of the100,000 men from the Philippines that were recruited from 1906 to 1946 to work in the sugar and pineapple plantation in Hawaii. These migrant plantation workers were called Sakadas. However, according to my mother, his father after a few years in Hawaii, became so homesick that he went back home to the Philippines. There he married his childhood girlfriend. While they were pregnant with their first child, sadly to say, my grandfather suddenly collapsed and died. So my mother did not even see his father for he passed away before she was born.

I have been mystified by my grandfather as we did not even have a photo of him. There’s not even a grave to visit as the land where he was buried, we were told, was bought by the government and turned into a highway. Nothing to remember him with but a story.

When we visited Hawaii recently, I wondered where did my grandfather worked and why he left this paradise-like place, and I wrote about it in my blog.

Then a month ago, a man who read my blog called our office and left a message to our secretary that he has information about my grandfather. I cannot contain my excitement so I called him back right away. The man told me that he was also a son of a Sakada. He even told me that my grandfather and his father probably even rode the same ship from Ilocos, a northern province in the Philippines, to Hawaii. His father was from a nearby town where my grandfather was from. He said that they picked young, stoic and hard-working men, who were mostly uneducated from the small rural towns – the type of people who would work without complaining.

The caller said that they were recruited by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, and their contracts were for three years, to work 6 days/week, 10 hours/day and got paid 13 cents/day. Now I can see why my grandfather chose to return to the Philippines when his contract was over, as the backbreaking, semi-slavery work was really brutal.

The man even told me where the word “Sakada” came from, a term my migrant grandfather and other workers were called. These rural lads who came with their feet caked with mud were given the moniker “naka saka-saka da” which in their local dialect means “the shoeless ones.”

You see, being barefooted is in my heritage. Am I ready to embrace my shoeless heritage? However my grandfather was chosen because of his lack of social status. But for me it is different. For I am chosen and called to be a servant and a messenger of God whose name is I AM WHO I AM.

Are we ready to take off our “proverbial ” shoes because God wants to commune with us without barrier?

Are we ready to take off our shoes because God wants us to be home with Him?

Are we ready to take off our shoes because He wants us to submit fully to Him and accept that He’s the one who will equip us?

May we be ready to take off our shoes, because God wants us to be messengers for Him?

This is my prayer.


(*photos from the web)


  1. So beautiful, Doc, especially that part about your grandfather. I’m touched. Love it.
    Another thing I love is that paragraph after your biblical citation, the word solely “Moses relying solely in the Lord.” It struck me that the underneath of our feet is called sole. I don’t know. Relying solely and our soles? Beautiful. Still masticating the word.
    Thank you and God bless po!

  2. Thanks for this. I like that part where we have to unlearn things sometimes. It is really necessary so God can reveal to us new things without our pre-conceived ideas. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s