God sometimes meets us in the ordinary events of our lives, but calls us into his extraordinary plan for our lives. God met Moses in something as mundane as a bush, but quickly revealed to him that God himself is not mundane. God is holy, and wholly other.
In Exodus 3, God draws Moses’s intense curiosity with a burning bush that is not consumed. Moses turns aside to see “this great sight” (Exod 3:3)—this Hebrew term for the “sight” next appears in Exodus at 24:17, where the Israelites see the LORD’s glory “like a devouring fire” on the top of this mountain. God could reveal himself to his people as a devouring fire (Deut 4:24; 9:3). As Exod 3:3 describes what Moses saw, the beginning of verse 4 describes what God saw: when YHWH saw that Moses turned aside to see, then God called to him from inside the bush.
“Moses! Moses!” the Lord calls (Exod 3:4). The doubling of Moses’s name evoking God’s earlier poignant revelations to Abraham and Jacob (Gen 22:11; 46:2). Moses answers the same way his ancestors had: “Behold, I,” usually translated, “Here I am” (3:4). The response might be equivalent today to something like, “Yes, Sir. I’m here, listening up!”
“Don’t come closer,” God warned. Instead, Moses was told, “Take your shoes off your feet, because you’re standing on holy ground” (Exod 3:5). Later, God’s people could not come near God’s presence on the mountain (19:12-13, 21-25); likewise, only priests could enter the sanctuary and almost no one could enter the holiest place in the tabernacle (Lev 16:2; Heb 9:7). (God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden after they sinned; likewise, he would expel Israel from the land holy to him when they sinned, Lev 18:8; 20:22.)
God is holy and must be approached with reverence. There were appropriate times to have one’s shoes on (Exod 12:11), but not on holy ground (Josh 5:15), just as God’s people should not profane an altar by using tools on it (Exod 20:25). (Removing sandals could also be used for mourning, Ezek 24:17, 23, just as hiding one’s face [Exod 3:6] could, 2 Sam 15:30; Esth 6:12.) This was a conventional, cultural way of revealing respect. Christians in other cultures today may reveal our respect in other ways than taking off our shoes in church (especially if we have not washed our feet in awhile). The principle, however, remains. God is holy, and must be approached with our best signs of respect.