TODAY’S READING: JOSHUA 5-7
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’ And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:13-15)
“Take off your sandals.”
The commander of the army of the Lord instructed Joshua to take off his sandals as he led Israel into the promised land. This was the first act commanded by the Lord on the way into the promised land.
But, this wasn’t the first time the Lord commanded someone to take off his sandals.
When Moses turned aside to see the burning bush, the Lord said, “Do not come near; take off your sandals of your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” This was the first act commanded by the Lord on the way out of Egypt.
But, Israel wore sandals for their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 29:5 says, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.”
What is it about sandals? Why were Moses and Joshua commanded to take their sandals off in the presence of the Lord on holy ground? Why did Israel wear sandals for the forty years in the wilderness? What are we to learn from the wearing and taking off of sandals?
SANDALS SYMBOLIZE POSSESSION AND OWNERSHIP
Before we can understand the significance of Joshua and Moses removing their sandals in the presence of the angel of the Lord, we need to know what sandals symbolize.
The first mention of sandals in the Bible is Genesis 14:22-23, which says, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.'”
Abram had just rescued Lot from his captivity under the kings that had taken Sodom and Gomorrah. The king of Sodom wanted the people Abram had rescued and told Abram he could take the goods, the spoils of the war, for himself. Abram’s response to the king of Sodom’s proposal was that he would not even take a sandal strap from the king.
A sandal strap is something very insignificant, but Abram would not even take that. Why would Abram not even take the most insignificant thing from the king of Sodom? Because the Lord, God Most High, is the possessor of heaven and earth. God owns everything, therefore Abram does not even need a sandal strap from the king of Sodom.
Deuteronomy 25:5-10 describes the process of Levirate marriage. A husband and wife are married but have no children. The husband dies and now there is no son to carry on the name and the inheritance of the dead husband. So, if the husband had a brother, then the brother was to take the widow as his wife and produce a son. In this way, the name of the deceased man would continue as would his inheritance. The dead man’s family would maintain its possession in Israel.
Ultimately, if the brother refused to fulfill his duty by taking the wife of his dead brother, “then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.'” (Deuteronomy 25:9) Basically, if the brother would not help his dead brother maintain his possession in Israel, then the widow would remove the brother’s shoe as symbol that he would not maintain his possession in Israel either.
MOSES, TAKE OFF YOUR SANDALS FOR THE LAND IS NOT YOURS
Moses sees a bush burning in the wilderness but notices that it is not being consumed. So, he goes to investigate. When Moses turned to see why the bush wasn’t being burned, the angel of the Lord called to him. Moses responded, “Here I am.” Then, the angel of the Lord said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
Why did the angel of the Lord tell Moses to take his sandals off?
Well, the obvious answer is that Moses was standing on holy ground. But, what does that mean? Why was this ground holy? This particular piece of ground was holy because that’s where the presence of the Lord.
But, the significance of the angel of the Lord’s command to take of his sandals was greater than Moses being in the presence of the Lord on holy ground. This was the start of the Lord giving his people the land that he had promised.
Exodus 3:7-8 says, “Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
Further, Exodus 3:17 says, “And I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Notice carefully what the angel of the Lord says.
“I have surely seen the affliction.”
“I know their sufferings.”
“I have come down to deliver them…to bring them…to a good and broad land.”
“I promise that I will bring you…to the land.”
This was going to be a work of the Lord for Israel. The Lord was doing this. He would take the land. Therefore, the Lord would own the land. As Abram said, “the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.” But, the Lord would give it to Israel as an inheritance.
However, since God would be the one taking the land and the possessor of it, Moses was told to take off his sandals as a symbol that this work was not his and that he would not own the land.
THE SAME SANDALS FOR 40 YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS
In Deuteronomy 29:5, God told Israel, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off you feet.”
On the one hand, Israel still having sandals on their feet after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was a blessing. God was able to keep them despite their grumbling and complaining and refusal to listen to his voice.
On the other hand, we have seen that sandals symbolize ownership and that Moses took his sandals off as a sign that God was the one that would do the work of taking the land and being the possessor of it.
Therefore, in a sense, that Israel wore sandals during their entire wilderness wandering was a sign that the wandering was their work and that they owned the wilderness. This will be more clear after you read the next section.
WHEREVER YOUR FOOT TREADS WITHOUT SANDALS WILL BE YOURS
After Moses was given the second set of stone tablets with the law written on them, God told Israel something very interesting. In Deuteronomy 11:22-24, God says, “For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours.”
Notice that God says he will drive out the nations. Israel will dispossess the nations, or inherit the land. The land that Israel will inherit will be every place the soles of their feet tread. So, everywhere Israel walks without sandals, God will take that land and give it to Israel to inherit.
How interesting that Israel was not being given the land where they walked with sandals. For in that case they would own the land instead of God, who is the possessor of heaven and earth. All the land is his and he would dwell with Israel in the land. Therefore, the land would be holy. And, the angel of the Lord told Moses to take his sandals off because he was on holy ground.
After Moses dies, God tells Joshua the same thing about the soles of his feet. Joshua 1:2-3, 5 says, “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.”
Just as God told Moses, he tells Joshua that he will take all the land that Joshua’s bare foot treads upon and give it to Joshua and Israel. But, not only that, no man will be able to stand before while he walks through the land without sandals.
ARE YOU FOR US OR OUR ADVERSARIES? NO.
So, Israel enters the promised land. The new generation is circumcised. And, the first passover in Canaan is held.
Joshua is by Jericho and he sees a man standing with a sword drawn. Joshua asks this man, “Are you for us, or our adversaries?” The man with the sword drawn answers him, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face and worshiped this man.
If this man with the sword drawn were just an angel, then he would have told Joshua not to worship him like the angel told John in Revelation. But, of course, this man with the sword drawn, this commander of the Lord’s army, is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus.
Jesus’ answer to Joshua’s question of who’s side he was on should really blow up a lot of people’s theology. Joshua was the leader of Israel. He was “a man in whom was the Spirit.” (Numbers 27:18) So, Joshua asks Jesus if he’s on Israel’s side or the enemies’ side. Jesus says in no uncertain terms, “No.” Jesus didn’t pledge undying, unwavering support for Israel. All the nations are like a drop in the bucket and as dust on the scales (Isaiah 40:15). The Lord has his own plan.
Jesus tells Joshua that in his presence there is no us against them, there is no friend or foe, there is no my side versus their side. God doesn’t have enemies in the way that we have enemies.
Remember that the Lord promised Moses he would drive out all the nations from the land of Canaan so that he could give to it to Israel as an inheritance. God promised Joshua that when he walked through the land without sandals, without trying to take possession of it for himself, that no man would be able to stand before him. And, the commander of the Lord’s army says to Joshua, “Now I have come.” Jesus has shown up to do just what God promised.
TAKE OFF YOUR SANDALS TO BE ON THE LORD’S SIDE
When Joshua fell down to worship, he asked the commander of the army of the Lord, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Joshua did what the commander said.
The commander told Joshua that he was not on the side of Israel or their adversaries. And, if Joshua wanted to be on the side of the commander, then he needed to take off his sandals. Like Moses, he was standing on holy ground because the Lord was present. We saw that this was a sign for Moses that the work of taking the land would be the Lord’s and the ownership of the land would be the Lord’s too. The same was true for Joshua. Therefore, Joshua needed to take off his sandals as a sign that he was not taking taking the land and he would not own the land. The Lord would give it to him as an inheritance.
Interestingly, the scripture never says anything about Joshua putting his sandals back on his feet.
JESUS SENDS HIS DISCIPLES WITHOUT SANDALS
In Matthew 10:5-15, Jesus is sending out the 12 disciples. (There are corresponding passages in Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 10:1-12. Mark differs in that they were to wear sandals.) They are to go proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the fulfillment of the mission that Joshua and Israel were on to take the promised land.
As they go, Jesus tells the disciples, “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for the your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.” By sending them without sandals, Jesus is saying that taking for the kingdom is his work. He is going to own wherever the disciples go, not the disciples.
Then, Jesus says, “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” How interesting that Jesus links the sending of the 12 without sandals with the bringing of peace.
ARE YOU WITH OR WITHOUT SANDALS?
Paul says that we do not wage war against flesh and blood. We are soldiers in the Lord’s army, but we are fighting a spiritual war. In reality, the Lord fights for us and he does the taking and the owning.
Therefore, Paul gives us a list of spiritual armor that we are to wear in the battle. Ephesians 6:15 says that part of the spiritual armor is “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Now, the way this has been translated makes it seem as if we have something on our feet, shoes or sandals. But, the word shoes is not in the Greek. The phrase Paul uses actually says something like “bind your feet in the readiness of the gospel of peace.” The word “shoes” has been assumed.
But, given everything that we have read so far, it makes more sense that the armor does not include sandals or shoes and has us bare foot. Moses was told he was to take off his sandals because this was the Lord’s work. Joshua was told the same thing. Further, Joshua was told that the Lord was not on his side or the adversaries side. And, if Joshua wanted to get on the Lord’s side he needed to take off his sandals. Jesus sent the disciples out without sandals and told them to let their peace come upon the places where they went.
So, it makes sense that we are told that our spiritual armor has us barefoot with our feet bound with the gospel of peace. We do not go out with sandals because we are not taking ownership of the places we go for ourselves. Instead, we go barefoot to bring peace.
In Israel, the idea of peace meant not just a lack of war. It also meant that all in the community were provided for. This is exactly what we see in Acts 2:44-45, which says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The early disciples were going without sandals, but their feet were prepared with the gospel of peace. No one was owning things for themselves. They were selling what they had so that everyone was provided for. They were without sandals and had feet prepared with the gospel of peace.
So, going without sandals and binding our feet with the gospel of peace makes us peacemakers. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Peacemakers are sons of Gods. What are sons of God? Heirs. Romans 8:14, 16-17 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” To be a peacemaker we must suffer with Christ. We suffer with him when we do not take ownership of anything in this world. This means we see everything as gift from God that is for use as he commands.
Just like Joshua, when we go without sandals we are acknowledging that we are on the Lord’s side. We are saying that the taking and the owning is the Lord’s work. Then, we inherit what the Lord gives us. When we go without sandals and have only the gospel of peace bound to our feet, we are saying that things are not ours to own or possess in this life. Rather, we will use what God has given us to make sure that everyone has what they need. This going without sandals brings the peace of God.
When we take off our sandals, we take a stand on the Lord’s side. We no longer have enemies, but are free to love as he loves, pouring out his rain on the just and the unjust.