Moses’ Shoes versus Joshua’s Shoe
The accounts of Moses encountering God at the burning bush and that of Joshua encountering “the captain of the LORD’s host” at Jericho have some similarities to them. But why is Moses told to “put off thy shoes (plural) from off thy feet (plural),” while Joshua is told to “Loose thy shoe (singular) from off thy foot (singular)”?
5 And he (God) said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)
15 And the captain of the LORD’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:15)
With Moses having come “to the mountain of God, even to Horeb,” and with Joshua having crossed the Jordan River and come to Jericho, the two incidents are similar in that both Moses and Joshua were standing on “holy ground.” That is, both of them were standing at places that God had previously sanctified as being set apart and significant to Him in the outworking of His program with Israel, and the times had then arrived in the program for each place’s sanctification to come to pass.
Wherefore as Moses and Joshua respectively were confronted with the reality of this, both of them were commanded to perform a gesture that indicated their acknowledgment of the sanctification, as well as their submission to it.
However there is a difference between the two gestures. For God commanded Moses to perform the more general or customary gesture of acknowledgment and respect, i.e. putting off both shoes from off his feet in honour of the sanctification.
But the “captain of the LORD’s host” commanded Joshua to perform a specific kind of gesture of acknowledgment. One that had some legal connotations to it, signifying as it did his acknowledgment of a lawful and necessary change that was taking place in the military aspect of the program.
For by commanding Joshua to “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot,” the “captain of the LORD’s host” commanded Joshua to perform the gesture that signified his acknowledgment of, and his submission to, the prophesied change of command that was now taking place in the program seeing that Israel had entered the land.
And indeed the prophesied change of command that God had spoken about in Exodus 32–34 was taking place.
For this reason when Joshua first saw the warrior and questioned his allegiance, he reproved Joshua saying “Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I NOW COME.” (Joshua 5:14a) For indeed he had “now come” in perfect accordance with the timing of the prophesied and anticipated change of command.
Accordingly therefore Joshua’s gesture of removing one shoe to signify his acknowledgment of the martial change that was taking place in the military aspect of the program was much the same sort of gesture spoken of in the Book of Ruth pertaining to the statutory custom of acknowledging and confirming a legal change.
7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming AND CONCERNING CHANGING, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. (Ruth 4:7)
Now in view of what Joshua signified by his gesture, do you know the full order and meaning to the military operations that God carried out from the time He brought Israel out of Egypt to the end of Joshua’s life? For they are truly fascinating, with the change to “the captain of the LORD’s host” being only one in a series of prescribed martial changes.
– K.R. Blades