Moses (Ex.3:5–6) and Joshua (Jos. 5:15) were told to remove their shoes as a matter of God’s holiness.
Question 1: How was it within the Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, surrounded by linen separation?
Question 2: What is the New Testament significance?
Question 3: We know that near the cross, some who followed our Lord Jesus Christ watched “from a distance” (Ex. 20:18; Matt. 27:55). It was normal at the time that the relatives of the murderers (in general) were on their knees in front of the cross(es), as a part of their guilt also. Has it to do with the above mentioned, and if so, in what context, in what relation is it? We know that the Lord Jesus and the murders on the crosses were also barefoot (e.g. see Ps. 22:17).
Let’s first examine the case of Moses and Joshua and then look at the other questions. It is necessary for us to understand the reason for the removal of the sandals in these cases before we move on to examine the other cases. What is it about the holiness of the ground that requires this action?
What characteristics of the sandals might be significant? Two things come to mind. Sandals are man-made and they protect the feet to allow steady walking on rough or hazardous ground. Here is the first clue. If the ground is holy, it is “set apart to God” or “sanctified.” We often associate holiness with being free from iniquity, but that is the derivative meaning. Essentially, something that is holy (or, sanctified) is set apart for service to God. For example, the tabernacle and the utensils used by the priests were “sanctified” for their use in God’s house. They are considered “clean” in the sense that they have not been misused in some way.
Applying this principle to the ground on which Moses was standing leads to the thought that the ground, being “holy”, would be free from being “rough” or “hazardous” and thus suitable for Moses to walk on without protection on his feet. But, what is God telling us in this picture? Moses was being called to serve God and in doing so he was to trust God for all the conditions of the pathway he would be called to take.
If we think of this picture this way it becomes really clear that this is the first and most important lesson that any servant of God must realize. If a servant has any doubts about God’s ability to sustain him in the way He has called him then his service is going to be self-centered, inconsistent, and will probably end in failure. A faithful servant must have complete confidence in the one he serves.
The issue of being man-made fits this perspective perfectly. A faithful servant must have no dependence upon his own human ability to carry out his duties. The apostle Paul learned this lesson. He wrote that he “put no confidence in the flesh.” See Philippians 3:3–8.
Looking at Joshua we see this perspective again fits perfectly. Joshua was about to lead the children of Israel into battle. The Lord appears to him as the true “commander of the army of the Lord” (Jos. 5:14). Again, the lesson is that the Lord Himself, and we might say without the help of sandals, will sustain Joshua in the battle. This a common theme in Scripture (Ps. 66:6; Ps. 77:19-20; Heb. 11:29).
We need also to see the contrast in Exodus 12:11 where the Israelites were explicitly to put their sandals on their feet in preparation for their departure from Egypt. Here the thought would seem to be that of readiness to follow Moses (a type of the Lord) into the wilderness. Here there would be necessity for protection from the hazards of the desert which symbolizes the world. So, separation is the main thought here.
There is no mention of sandals, or any other foot covering, connected with worship in the tabernacle or temple so I hesitate to try to draw any lessons from that.
With regard to the New Testament, if the lesson we have outlined above is correct, then the explicit exhortations to walk faithfully in the path the Lord has laid out for us would apply.
With regard to the relationship between those at the cross and the Lord, I think that the distance mentioned is to emphasize that the Lord Jesus suffered alone to provide atonement. This is emphasized many times in Scripture (Lev. 16:10; Ps. 69:20; Ps. 88:18; Mt. 26:56). That the Lord Jesus was barefoot is not explicitly mentioned so I hesitate to try to draw a lesson from it.