“But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Acts 7:33 (NAS)
Steven’s defense of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and the church as the intended spiritual temple of God before the Council (San Hedrin) as recorded in Acts chapter seven, is chock full of references to Old Testament passages.
Here as noted in verse thirty-three above, he recounts Moses’ experience in encountering the LORD in the burning bush. The source of Steven’s quote is in chapter three, verse five, of Exodus, “Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ ” The LORD revealed a key principle to Moses and underscores a custom practiced by many ancient peoples. First to the customs practiced in times past and still among various religions today. To removes one’s sandals or shoes was considered an act of consideration towards a fellow neighbor when entering their home so as not to “soil” the premises. Many still practice this custom of removing their shoes so they don’t carry the debris on them into their host’s domicile. In reference to holy places or temples, people were not able to enter them without removing their shoes as an act of reverence. We see this practice still strictly enforced in the holy places of Eastern religions as well as the Muslim temples. Those who travelled in the “Holy Land” of Palestine in the 1800s and into the 1900s encountered this practice still among the Samaritans. “A Samaritan from Nablus, who conducted Mr. Robinson and Mr. Smith to the summit of Gerizim, when he came within a certain distance of the spot, took off his shoes, saying it was unlawful for his people to tread with shoes upon this ground, it being holy.” (Illustrations of Scripture, Hackett) The LORD made Moses remove his shoes when he came into His divine presence, communicating to Moses that those things that had come into contact with and been profaned by the elements of the world were not invited into the presence of the Holy One, they must be removed first. Moses through the LORD, took this principle and practice, then instituted it among the priests when they entered into the Tabernacle (and subsequently the Temple) to perform their “divine service” (Heb. 9:6) in the presence of the LORD. They first had to wash their hands and their feet in the laver before they could enter into the sacred tent, the place of His presence among the people of Israel. These were all written down as examples, serving as types for the Christian’s instruction. Here is where the mental battle takes place among those who are the heritage people of God today. Is the sanctuary or sacred tent a physical building where the presence of God dwells, where upon entering we demonstrate the proper reverence and decorum while in “the house of the Lord”? The answer from the New Testament is an emphatic no! The temple, the sacred tent of the Lord today, is the individual Christian and as a whole, the body of Christ. Now, before anyone is invited to be the house of the presence of the Lord, you must first have the “garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23, i.e. “body of sin”, C. f. Rom. 6:6 & Col. 2:11) removed “in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) Once our sins are remitted in our immersion, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) through our faith and the working of God (C.f. 2:12). We are then raised to be seated with Him, no longer considered defiled, but now spotless and blameless in His presence. It is not arrogant to say this but rather part of the confidence and the picture of faith that the Lord has given us as a great reward. This allows us, as the writer of the Hebrew letter states, to “draw near”, unlike Moses who was told “do not come near here”. Logically then, since the presence of the Lord (the Holy Spirit) indwells us, we are now the “holy ground” wherever we happen to be located. How can anyone then say that they are a “black-hearted sinner” when the Lord says you’ve now been made holy and stand in His presence? Do you know who you are in Christ Jesus? Do you remember your purpose, to render divine service in the presence of the Lord as His royal priests? Next week we will consider our purpose as we look at Acts 7:34 and how the LORD sent Moses as a deliverer to those in bondage in Egypt.