Question: "What does the Bible mean when it refers to holy ground?"
Answer: The phrase “holy ground” is found only twice in the Bible, once in the Old Testament and once in the New. God Himself first identified the area in which He met with Moses on Mount Horeb (Sinai) as holy ground. It was there that God commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the people go from bondage to Egypt. At the moment Moses came upon the burning bush out of which God spoke to Him, God gave him two commands: don’t come near and take off your sandals. Both commands were to impress it upon Moses that he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5).
It was not that the actual ground on which Moses stood was holy; rather, it was the presence of the holy God that made it holy. The direction to Moses to remove his shoes was in conformity with what was well known to Moses, for having been brought up in Egypt, he would have known that the Egyptian priests observed the custom in their temples. Today it is observed in all Eastern countries where the people take off their shoes or sandals before entering mosques and synagogues as a confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness. Moses responds by not only removing his shoes, but also by hiding his face, a sign that he understood he was in the presence of the glory of the divine Majesty, and conscious of his own sinfulness and unworthiness. In fact, Moses was so aware of God’s holiness that He was afraid to look at Him (Exodus 3:6).
In the New Testament, the event described in Exodus is reiterated by Stephen as he was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrin. He recounted the history of the Jews and their dealings with the God of their forefathers (Acts 6–7). He reminded them of the incident of the holy ground on which Moses stood and spoke to God (Acts 7:33). The holy ground was rendered sacred by the presence of God, who is the very essence of holiness. The lesson for us is that we should enter the sanctuary, the place set apart for divine worship, with reverence in our hearts. Solemn awe and deep seriousness are appropriate for coming into the place set apart to the worship of God, for wherever the Lord is constitutes holy ground.
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