I have never seen so many ugly excuses for shoes in my life. It seems today’s women want to walk on either ten penny nails or bricks. The first are uncomfortable and the second are hideous. Give me a toe that is at least a little rounded, a lower heel, and no pain. I finally found a pair on a clearance rack for $19.99 that was perfect. I was beginning to think I was going to have to find a blacksmith.
And about those ten penny nails—after learning why men like women in stiletto heels, I am surprised that today’s modern, “liberated”, woman would wear anything that makes a man objectify her in the worst way. Fashion designers obviously have no respect for the women they dress.
Funny that shoes in the Bible can be matters of respect, too. Take your sandals off your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground, God told both Moses (Ex 3:5) and Joshua (Josh 5:15). Even today I am told that Muslims and several other Eastern religions take off their shoes as a sign that they are laying aside the pollution of the world to enter into a holy place.
Are they really? What about the olive oil stain on their sleeves from lunch? What about the cigarette smoke soaked into the folds of their robes from an earlier encounter? What about the everyday miasma we carry around with us from our environment, both in the home and out in the streets? Of course they are still stained with their everyday lives. Taking off the shoes is just a symbol of respect. Does that make it wrong?
In the West, we have a different symbol. Men take off their hats. They do it when they enter a room, when they greet someone, when the flag passes by, and during an outdoor prayer (it’s supposed to already be off indoors). According to the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer, the custom began when men took off their helmets to show they did not consider the person they were meeting a danger. Thus it became a symbol of trust, and one can understand how not removing the hat could be considered an insult. It still is.
A certain generation likes to say that symbols do not count, that the only thing that really counts is the heart. While it is true that the heart is the crux of the matter, I think I can show you that God still expects a few symbols from us too.
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless, Matt 22:11,12. I won’t go into the parable, just notice this: Jesus did not say the custom was wrong. Instead, he knew everyone would understand the parable because in that society it was a sign of disrespect to show up at a wedding in something other than “a wedding garment.” The garment was a symbol of respect for the occasion in that culture.
God has always expected His people to know the difference between, in the wording of Scripture, the holy and the profane. “Profane” does not mean crude and vulgar—it means having to do with common, ordinary life.
The Levites were warned, you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die, Num 18:32. Now that sounds serious.
Ezekiel said of the priests in the restored Temple, They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, 44:23. He also warned, This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut, 44:2. As a symbol of respect for God, the door he entered was to remain shut and no one else could use it.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood, Neh 8:5. They showed respect for the Word of God by standing when it was read.
Clearly, God expects some sort of symbolic respect for sacred things. What does that mean for us today? I am not sure. Maybe it hasn’t been specified because God knew that this new covenant would be open not just to one group, but to all peoples. What is respectful in one culture, may not be in another. (Try belching out loud at a dinner party here in America.)
In our congregation, we stand for the scripture reading. Does that mean that everyone there has that much respect for the Word of God? No. For some it is just an outward sign. They aren’t paying a bit of attention, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a sign of respect for the rest of us.
Take a few minutes today and think of the sacred things in your life. Maybe that is a first step—our culture has become so “casual” that some people couldn’t even come up with a list of things that deserve that kind of respect. We should be better than that. These things do not have to be tangible like your Bible, though that might be a good one to add to the list—your Bible and how you treat it. Do you just toss it around like a library book?
As to the intangible, your marriage might be a good thing to show respect for in a visible way. When our boys were little, they knew better than to ever sit between us at church. That was just our little thing—it showed them that we were always one and they could never come between us. I am sure you could think of another way to show respect to that God-ordained institution, one that means something to you too.
Try to think of at least a few others. Then think of ways to show that those things are sacred to you, not just some sort of mundane piece of life. You might be surprised at how that one little sign of respect affects your whole attitude.
Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean…so that I am profaned among them, Ezek 22:26.