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SHOE, SHOE-LATCHET (see Sandal; Dress) (נַ֫עַל, H5837, that which is bound on, שְׂרֹֽוכְ־נַ֔עַל, sandal bound on with something twisted; ὑπόδημα, G5687, something bound under; σανδάλιον, G4908, sandal). Of the thirty plus occurrences of “shoe” and “shoe-latchet” in the KJV, about two-thirds are rendered by “sandal” and “sandal-thong” in the RSV, because “sandal” is more accurate to portray to the modern mind a picture of the ancient Near Eastern shoe. Minimally, it consisted of a flat sole made of leather, wood or matted grass, with a leather strap or thong (latchet) attached on each side to hold it on the foot. There were, of course, variations depending on the type of use. The shepherd required a strong and sturdy sandal as he walked upon the rugged ground. Women of rank, on the other hand, would wear a light weight and more ornamental type.

The symbolic significance of shoes is a wellattested scriptural phenomenon. At least five different fig. uses can be detected:

(1) The sandal-thong (or shoe-latchet) sometimes signified cheapness. This grew out of its being the least expensive of personal items. Hence, Abraham would not agree to take even the most insignificant possession of the king of Sodom (Gen 14:23). A similar use of the shoe itself is found: to sell “the needy a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6; cf. 8:6) meant to sell them for a very low price.

(2) Growing out of the concept of cheapness is the idea that shoes depict the most humble part of a person. Accordingly, John the Baptist disclaimed any worthiness to touch even the sandals of Christ (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27; Acts 13:25). Even His lowliest part was too exalted for comparison with the forerunner.

(3) The wearing of shoes often spoke of travel or readiness to travel. Thus the Israelites were to eat the Passover with shoes on, i.e., in readiness to depart immediately (Exod 12:11). They also experienced a miraculous preservation of their sandals while wandering (Deut 29:5). Similarly, the Lord’s disciples did not need the customary extra pair of sandals for their journey (Matt 10:10; Luke 10:4; 22:35).

(4) The defilement contracted by the shoes in traveling resulted in another symbol: the shoe frequently stands for spiritual contamination. For this reason Moses had to remove his shoes while on holy ground (Exod 3:5; Acts 7:33), as did Joshua (Josh 5:15).

(5) A very prominent fig. use of the shoe was to symbolize a transfer of property right or responsibility. In the case of the Heb. who refused to fulfill his levirate responsibility toward his deceased brother’s wife, his refusal was marked by the removal of his shoe (Deut 25:9, 10; cf. Ruth 4:7, 8).


G. M. Machie, HDB, IV (1902), 508; E. A. Speiser, BASOR, LXXVII (1940), 15-20; J. M. Myers, IDB, IV (1962), 213, 214.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Ru 4:7 f states as a "custom in former times in Israel," that when any bargain was closed "a man drew off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor." This was of course simply a special form of earnest-money, used in all transactions. In De 25:9 f the custom appears in a different light. If a man refused to perform his duty to his deceased brother’s wife, the elders of the city were to remove his shoe and disgrace him publicly, "And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed." The removal of the shoe is apparently connected with the rite in Ru 4:7 as a renunciation of the man’s privilege. But the general custom seems to have become obsolete, for the removal of the shoe is now a reproach. The meaning of Ps 60:8 parallel 108:9, "Upon (margin "unto") Edom will I cast my shoe," is uncertain. `al, may mean either "upon" or "unto." If the former, some (otherwise unsubstantiated) custom of asserting ownership of land may be meant. If the latter, the meaning is "Edom I will treat as a slave," to whom the shoes are cast on entering a house.

See also

  • Dress