The exciting phenomenon of the burning bush which Moses saw in the wilderness is introduced to us in Exodus chapter 3. Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro and this work took him to isolated parts of the wilderness in search of better pasture. One day as he came to Mt. Horeb (which means dry or desolate) his attention was caught by a small fire. A bush was burning but as he looked at it from a distance it seemed that while the fire burned the bush itself remained unaffected. Deeming this to be highly unusual he reckoned it warranted a second look and closer investigation, ‘And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt’, Exod. 3. 3. As he did so the voice of God challenged him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground’, Exod 3. 4-5. That a patch of wilderness should be described as holy ground was striking, but then God was there and wherever He is present it must inevitably become a sanctified place. As Moses listened to God he had a special revelation of who He was and what His current interests and future plans were relative to His people. Moses was commanded to go to Pharaoh with a message of judgement. It is interesting to note that this encounter with God was a wilderness experience; it was necessary to turn aside to appreciate it; and it was miraculous. Similarly, when Joshua encountered the Captain of the Host of the Lord on the outskirts of Jericho he too was told to take off his shoe as the ground was holy, see Joshua 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’.
There are a number of other places in scripture that could be designated ‘holy ground’ as they too bear the characteristics of both Moses’ and Joshua’s experiences.
1 The place called Calvary
The detail given to us about the location of Calvary in the New Testament is sparse. ‘We know it was outside the city, Heb. 13. 12, yet close to it, John 19. 20. It was on a public path, Matt. 27. 39 and could be seen from afar, Mark 15. 40; Luke 23. 49’ NSBE. This place was notorious in the eyes of the Jews. Often used by the Romans for crucifixions it had become known as ‘the place of the skull’. Many victims of Roman cruelty had met their end there and it was this place that was chosen for the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was possibly a rocky outcrop (or a green hill?) conveniently situated just outside Jerusalem’s city wall and may have been in the shape of a skull. It is possible, however, that the place now known as ‘Gordon’s Calvary’ is the actual site. In those days many ungodly, indeed criminal, feet trod the area yet it became holy ground. At Calvary there were two malefactors crucified for the sins they had committed against their fellow men. The Lord Jesus was nailed to the middle cross already having been abused and tortured, and having undergone six trials, each of them illegal. Thus rejected and despised of men He suffered further from the crowd, from the two thieves and ultimately from God as He made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all. The Lord speaks of abandonment by God and that He found hardest of all. The place speaks of suffering, shame and loss yet also of love, sacrifice and substitution. Here the force of God’s wrath against sin was borne by Christ and here the sin of man reached its high-water mark as the plan of salvation was wrought out. At this place God forsook the Saviour and atonement was made. We are, by faith, allowed access to this site to understand for ourselves the horror of sin and the price of its penalty. This place, called Calvary, is indeed ‘holy ground’ and we stand thereon, barefoot, in awe.
2 The place where the Lord lay
The burial of the Lord Jesus took place in some haste as Joseph and Nicodemus removed Him from the cross, anointed Him and wrapped him in linen cloths. Having sealed the tomb with a very great stone they departed to their homes. On the morning of the first day of the week the women of the Lord’s company visited the sepulchre and found it empty. Peter and John also came and found it so. Others came later and were met by angels who said, ‘He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay’, Matt. 28. 6. The place was, of course, Joseph of Arimathea’s recently completed tomb in his own garden. Prepared for himself and his family in the event of death it was pressed into emergency service to accommodate the Lord’s body. The place, or one like it, may still be seen in Jerusalem in ‘the Garden of Remembrance’. The tomb was ‘hewn out of the rock’. It was not a natural cave as such a place could have other entrances (and exits) but we can be sure this tomb had but one. Inside there would be in accordance with tradition one or more niches carved into shape to make resting places for bodies. There might also be a standing area so that when the living entered the tomb they had room to view the dead body. There were also sitting places, see John 20. 12. The special thing about this tomb, however, was not its structure nor its layout. What the angels wanted to demonstrate to the women was the indisputable fact that it was empty. He had risen! This is indeed holy ground and belief in the resurrection is vital for salvation as well as for all those reasons Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15. If the resurrection is but a myth then we are of all men most to be pitied. However, as Paul says, ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead’, 1 Cor. 15. 20. It is good that the actual location of the tomb is in doubt as, if it were known for sure, the place rather than the Person may have become the object of veneration.
3 I go to prepare a place for you
In John chapter 13 the disciples were perplexed and despairing. They were quite unsure as to what was happening to the Lord and to themselves. So much had taken place over a period of a few hours they could scarcely keep pace with events. Now, on top of all that, they discovered that the Lord was about to leave them. No wonder they were troubled. John chapter 14 opens with the wonderful words, ‘Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me’. The Lord reminds them that they had always trusted God whom they had never seen and now was the time to trust the Son of God even though they could not see Him. He knew where He was, what He was doing, who was with Him or against Him and where He was going. It is unlikely that when He spoke of this place He was referring to Calvary. It is more likely that He meant that He would be preparing heaven for the reception of men. He Himself would be the first Man to be in heaven. I suspect we would be happy to go to heaven no matter whether or not it was ‘prepared’. Just to be there is our aim. While we do not understand in what way it must be prepared for us it is good to know that when we arrive there we will find it eminently suitable. To aid our appreciation heaven is described in negative terms, e.g., no night, no sin, no pain, no crying, etc. Positively, we know that God will be there, as will the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ. Also angels, saints of Bible times and the redeemed including those of our friends who have gone before. What a gathering that will be! That place will truly be holy ground.
4 There is a place by Me
Moses had been anxious to be assured that God and all His authority would be with him in the venture to release the people from bondage in Egypt. His excuses were dealt with and he now asks God, ‘Shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight’, 33. 13. God responds, and so encouraged, Moses is bold to further request, ‘Shew me thy glory’, 33. 18. This was not possible as looking upon God’s glory would bring death so God tells Moses that He will show him His goodness, proclaim His name before him and be gracious. ‘And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen’, Exod. 33. 21-23. So, God did so and Moses had the unique privilege of seeing God in this way. This place was therefore ‘holy ground’, a place where God was discovered and appreciated. Such places still exist and it is possible for the saint to have a place in the cleft of a rock. There we may be placed by God, covered with His hand and experience something of His beauty and glory. It is a place close to Himself and a place where by faith we should often resort. On this holy ground doubt and despair disappear overwhelmed by the glory and goodness of God. It has been said that the greatest encouragement for a suffering believer is a fresh vision of the glory of God in Christ. We should have our ‘place’, our closet, and quietly ensconced therein wait while He passes by. Thus strengthened we resume the battle.
5 Gathered together into one place
1 Corinthians chapter 11 is dealing with church order and sadly the believers in this particular church were seen to be abusing their privileges. They did indeed gather ‘into one place’, v. 20, but having gathered they lost sight of why they were there. What should have been holy ground for celebrating the Lord’s Supper was diminished as they sought to pursue their own way. ‘When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not’, 1 Cor. 11. 20-22. The honour and privilege of meeting together to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup should not be abused by the introduction of anything that is of the flesh nor is the product of human arrangement. To do so would be to desecrate the place … the holy ground whereon we meet. Not of course holy ground because it is in a church building but rather because the Lord is in the place where two or three are gathered together in His name and where His honour is paramount. We should highly value the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a very special spiritual gathering solely for His glory and we do well to avoid the problems of the Corinthian church and other innovations that may be the product of our modern, and allegedly ‘progressive’, society. We gather on holy ground and reverence for the God of the place is vitally necessary.
Each of these ‘places’ is unique. In reality or in faith we have free access to them. They are places of great spiritual significance and experience and we love to frequent them.