When God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground, the statement wasn’t about the dirt Moses was standing on. Instead, it was a powerful lesson about God’s presence. When we find ourselves standing in the middle of a messy situation, we may ask ourselves, “What’s so holy about here?”
The story of Moses, which begins in the Book of Exodus and ends at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy is a powerful story of faith, redemption, hope, God’s power and several other foundational principles of the Christian faith. Moses, while a forefather of the faith and a hero of the Old Testament, was far from a perfect man. The Bible recounts examples of his doubt, his failures (which included murder), and various other issues. However, God had a plan and a purpose for Moses.
During their first interaction, God found Moses on the backside of a mountain caring for a flock of sheep that weren’t even his. He wasn’t there because of God’s calling. Instead, he was there because he was a fugitive. In Exodus 2:12, he killed an Egyptian who was tormenting one of his fellow Israelites. Afraid of the punishment that was coming, Moses ran into the wilderness to hide.
The Bible teaches us that Moses’ tenure as a wilderness fugitive wasn’t a short one. In fact, it lasted 40 years! For four decades, this man who had grown up as a grandson of Pharaoh became a shepherd for a flock of sheep that belonged to his father-in-law. At that time, Moses was hardly in God’s service. He was just a simple man living a simple life. All of that changed with a single interaction with God.
In Exodus 3, Moses was leading his flock from one side of the mountain to the other when he saw something unbelievable:
Exodus 3:2 (ESV)
And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
That’s the kind of sight that catches your attention. The bush was on fire, but it was not consumed. The fire wasn’t destroying the bush, it just continued to burn. Moses did what most of us would do: he went over to get a better look at the sight.
Exodus 3:4-5 (ESV)
When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Wait, what? The ground where Moses was standing was “holy ground?” What was so holy about the place where Moses was standing? Again, it’s worth discussing that Moses wasn’t exactly there as a missionary. Instead, he was a fugitive for murder.
However, God told Moses the place where he was standing was holy. What was so holy about the backside of a mountain where a murderer was hiding from possible punishment? What was so holy about a wilderness where a man who had spent the first 40 years of his life living in the lap of luxury has spent the last 40 years of his life struggling just to get by every day?
We could ask ourselves the same question. What’s so holy when you find yourself standing in the middle of a courtroom, dividing up assets with an estranged spouse who you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with? What’s so holy when you’re sitting in a doctor’s office, listening to a physician tell you that the tests indicate that the cancer is back? What’s so holy when you’re standing alone after friends have betrayed you?
All of us have found (or will find) ourselves standing in the middle of situations that we don’t consider holy. When we think of the word “holy,” we think about being in a place where everything is going great. God’s blessings are abundant when we’re standing in a holy place. There aren’t any issues when we’re standing in a holy place. We’re singing, worshiping and praising God for all of His goodness when we’re in a holy place. But Moses wasn’t in a place like that. No, Moses had essentially changed his identity and was hiding. From a prince to a shepherd, Moses had gone from sleeping in the palace with Pharaoh’s daughter (who had adopted him) to sleeping with sheep in the wilderness. No. There was no way that this place was really holy.
We may feel the same about where we find ourselves. However, when God told Moses that the place where he stood was holy, it had nothing to do with Moses. It had nothing to do with what Moses brought to the table. Instead, the holiness of where Moses was standing hinged on the presence of God.
Exodus 3:6 (ESV)
And 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 at God.
The fire that was burning the bush was not just a flame. It was the literal presence of God that had come to earth to interact with one of His people. The place where Moses stood was holy because God was there. What does that mean for us? Let’s look to the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 6:19 (TPT)
Have you forgotten that your body is now the sacred temple of the Spirit of Holiness, who lives in you? You don’t belong to yourself any longer, for the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside your sanctuary.
God’s presence came to Moses through a burning bush. His presence in that place made that place holy. We don’t get burning bushes anymore. Instead, God’s presence is always with us because the Holy Spirit lives inside us. We can rest in the promise of His presence based solely on the fact that His spirit is inside of each one of us.
When you don’t feel like the place where you’re at in life is holy, remind yourself of the fact that He is with you. What’s so holy about here? God’s presence. He doesn’t only come to us when things are going badly. Instead, He lives inside us, meaning He has a front row seat for each of our successes and failures. The place where you are, no matter how painful it feels is holy. Not because of you, but because of the One who lives in you.
A Closing Prayer:
God, help me to feel Your presence where I’m at. I know that You are with me, but I don’t feel like this place is holy. I don’t feel like this place is good. Remind me of your never-ending presence with me. In Christ’s name, Amen.