Sandals, Faith and Holiness.
Tell es-Sultan tells us a story. The jumble of bricks exposed by the archaeological dig reveals a fallen wall. It indicates an upper balustrade atop the surrounding city enclosure had fallen against its lower rocky ramparts. The remains of brick houses lie in tumbled and torched ruins—signs of an ancient earthquake followed by a great fire. Evidence of substantial stores of grain add to the story of a city suffering a quick and effective siege. Its inhabitants had not been starved into surrender but rather had found their defenses nullified when a freak earthquake coincided with the arrival of their enemies. Only one or two structures remain standing—simple apartments built into one section of the outer wall that remains standing.
The author of Hebrews 11 summarizes Joshua’s story in one line: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”
God had selected Joshua to lead the ancient Israelites into their Promised Land. He had spoken to Joshua earlier, commissioning him for the daunting task, three times encouraging Joshua to “be strong and courageous”. He had promised to be with Joshua, to never leave him or forsake him. It was no small thing to lead God’s twelve-tribed unruly band of Chosen People. God was preparing Joshua. Encouraging the fearful is something God takes seriously. But God knew there was something more Joshua needed in order to face the ordeal.
One day, as Joshua neared the iconic border city of Jericho, God revealed Himself to him. He appeared as a fear-inspiring, weapon-wielding commander and there was nothing Joshua could do but fall prostrate to the ground in reverence.
“Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy,” thundered the voice of the commanding God.
The message was clear: it is not enough for a follower of the LORD God to be strong and courageous. Neither is it enough to know He is near, ever-present and supportive. God’s followers must also be holy. They must be tenaciously persistent, adamant and committed to being nothing less than holy. And God knows our natural bent is to be anything but that. So God often speaks to us of specifics. He calls us to look at our normal daily activities, relationships and attitudes and apply holiness to them.
To Joshua God spoke about sandals. Joshua’s sandals had helped him in untold ways: they had protected his feet through forty years of desert wanderings; they had insulated him from the scorching daytime paths and the risks of nighttime scorpion stings. The sandals had provided him with a measure of self-respect and deportment—going barefoot was for the poor and marginalized. And sandals had given Joshua a Plan B of escape, a hope of fight or flight if any of God’s Plan A plans put Joshua in danger.
But God explained to Joshua that he was standing on holy ground, sacred and set apart for God’s glory. He was illustrating for Joshua that every place God’s servants stand is set apart by God as holy, and so they must become holy too. God Himself is holy—He is completely other than any one or thing in all creation. This otherness describes His unmixed and perfect goodness, justice and loving-kindness. To tread on holy ground is a calling to access God’s holy character. It is a command to set aside the destructive self-interest, self-protection, and self-satisfaction that we humans insist is our right. Selfishness has no place in holiness. Only as we remove self-centredness like kicking off shoes unfit for the task will holiness have a chance to grace our feet.
“How beautiful are the feet,” Scripture tells us, “of those who bring good news!”
Joshua was changed that day. God’s holiness dusted and baptized the feet and the person of Joshua. Joshua went back to the Israelites and in turn inspired them to be holy. He spoke to them of God’s goodness and of God’s call. He inspired them to grow in their faith. The landscape began to change for them that week. Their feet, too, began to stir up holy dust as they walked. Prison-like walls fell. People were rescued. God’s followers were enabled to enter their Promised Land.
What is God speaking to us about through this story? What are our ‘sandal issues’? Which of our activities, relationships or attitudes need to be doffed in favour of simple holiness? God’s plan for our journey always leads us to a process of becoming people characterized by the goodness of His character. He wants us to be other than our natural bent toward selfishness. He wants us to have faith in His Son Jesus and to step out to exercise that faith as He commands. He wants us to break down walls of injustice and bondage, freeing others to become holy too. He’s calling us. That’s holiness.