Holy Ground


‘Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.’ When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ Exodus 3:1-10

The Burning Bush

The burning bush caught Moses’ attention. This was no ordinary occurrence,

‘strange sight’.

This was a divinely created aberration, not just a case of spontaneous combustion, or light shining through the branches. It was designed to grab Moses’ attention, so God could speak, as all miracles were not an end in themselves, but pointed to the word.

Why a burning bush?

Some suggest that it was representative of Israel’s oppression and trial. God spoke from the bush, in other words, He was with them in their affliction. If God could keep a bush from being consumed, He also could keep His people, even though they were going through the fire, from being consumed.

Moses was learning that this was all about God, not Moses. Before Moses can reveal God’s plan to Israel and Egypt, he must understand Who God is. Our faith is rooted in our understanding of God’s identity.

The God of the Burning Bush

The phenomenon of the bush wasn’t the true glory being revealed, God was there. He appeared in the presence of an angel, and spoke from the bush.

A Holy God

‘Take off your Sandals’, ‘Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’ Moreover, He said, ‘I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God’. Exodus 3:5-6

God’s first command to Moses is for him to stay back and remove his sandals. God declares that the ground is ‘holy ground’. This is the first occurrence of the word ‘holy’ in the Bible. As we remember the word, ‘qodesh’ means sacred, dedicated or hallowed. Throughout the Old Testament it presents the idea of separation by God for His purposes. This includes purity as well, especially in the New Testament.

There was nothing inherently ‘holy’ about this piece of ground but God was there and God is inherently holy or transcendent. He cannot be approached except as His direction and with His provision. God’s holiness demands fear, ‘reverence’ and obedience.

Moses’ attitude went from curiosity to fear.

Exodus 3:6 ‘And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God’.

Those who come to recognise God’s holiness are driven to their knees with the clear perception of their own un-holiness.

When Isaiah looked into the throne room of heaven, he saw angels praising God.

Isaiah 6:3-5 ‘And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’

The holiness of God is centre stage at Sinai and in the giving of the law, but it also would play a major role in the Exodus. God’s uniqueness would be clearly demonstrated in the coming plagues, and Israel would be called upon to fear and obey Him.

Notice what God said to Moses,

‘Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’

God is holy and unclean sandals cannot be stomped in and out of His presence. God was telling Moses,

‘This is my house, so take off your dirty shoes before you come any farther.’

For the priests, they understood that they had to wash their hands and feet before they walked into the holy place.

Exodus 30:18-21 ‘You are also to make a large bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You are to put it between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it, and Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and their feet from it. When they enter the tent of meeting, they must wash with water so that they do not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by burning incense as an offering made by fire to the LORD, they must wash their hands and their feet so that they do not die. And this will be a perpetual ordinance for them and for their descendants throughout their generations.’

In other words, they couldn’t pass farther or serve in the tabernacle, until they bared their feet and washed them in the golden laver. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet He was preparing them for a deeper walk, He was preparing them for the Upper Room experience, He was preparing them for service.

John 13:1-15 ‘It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’

We know that Joshua is also told to take off his shoes, in this incident, the commander of the Lord’s army, said to Joshua,

‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.’ Joshua 5:15

Putting off the shoe was a token of respect and submission.


There is always the danger that we can be too casual in our approach to God. God’s holiness demands fear, reverence and obedience.

‘But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ 1 Peter 1:15-16

When we talk about the holiness of God, we’re talking about His separateness. That is, God is set apart from this world, He is set apart from the evil acts of a sinful people.

As God’s people, living on this side of the cross, we have been cleansed from our sin, the sacrifice of Jesus has made us clean in the sight of God. We have been made holy through Jesus.

So, because we have been made holy, we need to act like we’re holy. We’re to be set apart from the world, we’re to stop acting like sinful, unsaved people, we’re to hate sin and steer clear of sinful situations, we’re to honour God with our every breath and our every thought.

That’s what it means to be holy, being holy means being set apart for God.



"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Philippians 4:8