Significance of Shoes, Sanctity of Feet

Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses

Why did God ask Moses to take off his shoes on Mount Horeb (Gen.3:2-5)? God told Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” There must be a reason God told him to take His shoes off; He is a holy God requiring respect, yet all He wants from His fallen creation is our love, attention and adoration.

The reason the mountain was holy was because it was a place of worship. God required Moses to take his shoes off before he spoke to him. I can assume it was a sign of respect, or to remind Moses to humble himself before the almighty God. But God did not tell Moses to kneel or prostrate himself as was most biblical person’s response to an angel or messenger of God. It must have something to do with feet. It could be as simple as feet are dusty and dirty (at the time people wore sandals), therefore representative of our sin and separation from God, but I think there must be something more to it. I can thank my Dad for bringing up this question. We both like to find hidden meanings.

My feet are very important to me as a dancer. When I spent hours a day in my pointe shoes, my feet needed a lot of care and attention off the clock to keep me going. It is easy to forget how long it took my toes to build up calluses in the place of blisters where my shoes rubbed when I danced. In classical dance, as in ballet or character, the dancer wears special shoes. In modern or contemporary dance, shoes are optional. I like to think of people in the Bible like Miriam and David who danced to worship the Lord dancing barefoot. Surely they took off their shoes to worship and praise the Lord.

My dad told me of a man he played with in a worship band who would take off his shoes when he stood to play guitar. I love this picture: it almost seems disrespectful in a church or a place of worship in our culture today, as if he was just trying to be more comfortable. But to that man he had a specific reason for taking his bare feet. When my Dad asked him why he did that, he felt he could connect to God better with his shoes off. Take away all the legalistic, religious reasons that could be applied to this scenario, and you see a man in his most honest, humble humanity, focusing on one thing in that moment: worshipping his God.

Thinking more about shoes and their function for us separating us from the ground, or nature, I wonder if this separation means more than man’s protection from nature’s harshness. Our shoes, like our clothing, cover our bodies. Recall in the Garden of Eden, God created man and woman with no clothing, and they were not ashamed. It was when sin entered the world through both Adam and Eve’s sin that they were ashamed of their nakedness and tried to cover their bodies. Once they were separated from God, He provided coverings made of animal skins for them (this was also when they were told they could eat animals). So clothing is godly, because he ordained it for us in the case of sin pervading our world, but clothing is for our protection from the world and each other. God knows everything about us; we can’t hide the feelings in our hearts or the thoughts in our minds from Him. It makes sense now that this man took off his shoes a physical sign of placing himself back in God’s care and protection. It is an act of reverence and gratefulness to the Lord, and a sign of our understanding that though our sin required we wear clothing (and shoes), we are naked and pure before God again because of his gift to us in His Son Jesus.