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.” Exodus 3:4-5
If we had been there thousands of years ago, tailing Moses among the foothills, we would have seen him moseying along, minding his own business. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees something he’s never seen before: a bush engulfed in flames, yet not burnt to a crisp.
Now, I’m no scientist, but this kind of thing doesn’t really happen. So naturally, Moses “turned aside to see” this mysterious fireball bush. Then something even more unsettling happens. The bush actually talks. It doesn’t say, “Hey Moses, lovely weather we’re having today! Have any campfires lately?” The first words from the bush aren’t a warm greeting. Instead, they’re a warning.
Have you ever noticed or thought about that before? Why on earth would God’s first order of business be to say, “Get back and go barefoot, Moses!”
Here’s the answer; and it’s all about that phrase “holy ground.” You see, God’s holiness is way more than a theological term for textbooks and smarty-pants preachers. It’s more than God’s moral righteousness and perfection, too. (Though they’re certainly part of it.)
God’s holiness is his “set apartness.” God is something completely different in nature than we are. While we bear his image, we do not intrinsically hold his qualities. In fact, his holiness is so potent it can actually kill—just ask a guy named Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:7).
Think about it like this. Fire consumes everything it touches except for other flames. When it’s hot enough, it melts stone and evaporates water. When flame meets flame, however, they intertwine and become one. When like meets like, things are okay. When like meets different, though, the stronger dominates the weaker.
This is how it works with God’s holiness, and the flames represent this reality. And why God gives Moses an urgent warning to stay back—because he was approaching a raging inferno of holiness his flesh simply couldn’t bear up against.
Moses immediately obeys, slips off his sandals, and hides his face, afraid to look at the Holy God blazing bright before him. Have you ever thought about God’s holiness in a real, tangible way?
Does that deepen your awe at what Jesus did for us, so that we could draw close to God’s holy throne with boldness?