Q: #502. Did the priests walk barefoot while serving in the Tabernacle / Temple?
By: Steve Shirley
A: We cannot know this with certainty, but there are several clues that point to this possibility.
First, when we look at (Ex 28:1-43)(Ex 39:1-31), which describe in detail how God wanted priests to be dressed while serving in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple), what they were supposed to wear on their feet is not mentioned.
Secondly, both Moses (Ex 3:5)(Acts 7:33), and Joshua (Josh 5:15) were told by God to remove their sandals in His presence because they were walking on "Holy Ground." The two rooms of the Tabernacle (and later two rooms inside the Temple) were called "The Holy Place" and "The Holy of Holies" (Ex 26:33)(Ex 27:21)(Lev 16:16)(Heb 9:1-10). God's presence was in the "Holy of Holies" (Lev 16:2).
***Note: The High Priest was allowed to go behind the veil covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people (Lev Ch. 16). When Jesus died on the cross, this veil was torn in half (Mt 27:51). Jesus is now our High Priest, and through Him, all Christians are allowed into the Holy of Holies (God's presence) (Heb 10:14-22)(Heb Ch. 9).
Thirdly, God ordered that a "laver" be placed just outside of the entrance to these rooms. This laver contained water, which God commanded the priests to use to wash their hands and feet before they entered into the Holy Place (Ex 30:17-21)(Ex 40:30-32). Failure to do so could result in their death (Ex 30:20-21). Obviously, this would require them to remove their sandals (footwear). It seems very unlikely that they would once again put on their dirty footwear after washing their feet.
***Note: Of course, as with nearly everything in the Old Testament, the "laver" pointed to Christ, who washes us clean and cleanses us (Heb 10:19-22)(Eph 5:25-26). (Some believe that when Jesus washed the disciples feet in [Jn 13:2-10], it also pointed to this.)
Finally, there are a few historical writings which speak about this issue, however, it is unclear how accurate they are. For example, when looking up the word "barefoot" in the Jewish Encyclopedia, you can find a few historic quotes from people (I have no idea who they are) on this issue. Here is one: "The priests in the sanctuaries wore no shoes (see "Silius Italicus," iii. 28; Theodoret on Ex. iii., quaestio 7; Yer. Sheḳ. v. 48d)." I also read that there are writings in the Jewish Talmud and Mishnah confirming this practice, but I could not find them.