What does Exodus 3:5 mean?
ESV: Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
NIV: "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
NASB: 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.'
CSB: "Do not come closer," he said. "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
NLT: Do not come any closer,' the Lord warned. 'Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.
KJV: And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
NKJV: Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
Verse Commentary:
Moses has approached a miraculously burning bush, which is not consumed by the flames. From those flames, "the angel of the LORD" speaks. God first gives Moses two commands: to keep his distance, and to remove his sandals. Both commands relate to the holiness of the location where Moses stood. This holy ground would become the location of the calling of Israel's greatest leader, as well as the place he would return with the people of Israel later on (Exodus 3:12; also Acts 7:30). This holy "place" referred specifically to Mount Horeb, the entire mountain where God would reveal Himself to Moses and the people of Israel.

Joshua received a similar calling in Joshua 5:15 where he was also commanded to remove his sandals due to holy ground. God's holiness can be associated with particular land or location, the sanctuary, the temple, and even items associated with people of the temple. The source of this holiness is God—not the object, the location, or the substance itself. In the New Testament, those who believe in Jesus as Lord become holy and are called to live as the priesthood of believers in holiness to God (1 Peter 2:5–9).
Verse Context:
Exodus 3:1–8 describes the initial contact between Moses and God. This occurs in one of Scripture's most memorable scenes: the burning bush. Moses is tending sheep for his father-in-law in Midian, after fleeing from Egypt some forty years prior. He sees a bush which is covered in fire, but not being burnt up. Out of this flame, ''the angel of the LORD'' speaks, declaring God's intent to liberate Israel from their slavery in Egypt.
Chapter Summary:
Moses is tending sheep for his father-in-law when he sees a miraculous sight: a bush which is on fire, but not burnt up. From this fire, God speaks to Moses, appointing him as the leader of the nation of Israel, whom God intends to free from Egyptian slavery. God identifies Himself in this passage using the famous terminology ''I AM.'' Despite Moses' fears and doubts, God gives him a message to take to the elders of Israel, and eventually to Pharaoh himself.
Chapter Context:
Prior chapters in Exodus explained how the descendants of Abraham became a nation which was populous, but enslaved, in the land of Egypt. Exodus 3 describes the moment when God calls Moses to lead Israel out of slavery. This is accomplished through the miracle of the burning bush. The beginning of this dialogue between God and Moses includes messages for both Israel and Pharaoh, and will continue into chapter 4.
Book Summary:
The book of Exodus establishes God's covenant relationship with the full-fledged nation of Israel. The descendants of Abraham prosper after settling in Egypt, only to be enslaved by a fearful, hateful Egyptian Pharaoh. God appoints Moses to lead the people out of this bondage. Moses serves as God's spokesman, as the Lord brings plagues and judgments on Egypt, leading to the release of Israel.
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