“Guiding Principles” are a broad philosophy that encompass your personal beliefs and values and guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies or type of work. They create a company culture where everyone understands what’s important. (Quote: Google) Every organization, people group, nation or country that has existed or exists must have guiding principles written into their constitution so that the group or people can function on a day-to-day basis, taking into account all or any changes in circumstances. So, here we find that God brings His people to Sanai to introduce them to His guiding principles in the form of His Law; and it could be said that this would be the most important lesson that they would learn on their wilderness journey.
In preparation for giving the Law we see that the Israelites had to commit themselves to obeying it <Ex.19:8>, God introduces the basic principle or reason for the Law; His holiness puts restrictions or limitations on any individual who may wish to approach or enter His presence. God has told Moses that He will descend upon the mountain to speak with him, and in preparation for this event the people should be purified; cleanse themselves and wash their clothing so as to be ready to meet with God <Ex.19:9-11, 22; cf Lev.15:31>. Because of God’s holiness, no sinful person can approach or enter His presence, and this is the spiritual condition of all individuals due to inherited sin <Psa.51:5; Rom.3:23>; so, Moses should set boundaries and instruct the people that no one should approach or attempt to climb the mountain; “Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.” <Ex.19:12 (NIV)>; death would be the result of anyone that attempted to approach God’s presence, and this is the principle that is set by God for anyone that may attempt to enter His presence. God is separate from sin and no sinful person is allowed in His presence.
The ten commandments given by God to Moses do not constitute the whole Law, they only reflect the spiritual and moral principles on which all of the hundreds of laws in the codes of the Mosaic law stand. The first four <Ex.20:3-11> emphasize our relationship to God, and the last six <Ex.20:12-17> lay emphasis on our relationship to each other. Further to these, the Civil Laws were given and outlined in Exodus chapters 21-24, and although they do not give a complete ethical code for every possible circumstance or issue to be dealt with, they do give examples that cover life situations that we have to deal with.
Upon seeing the lightning, hearing the thunder and the trumpet the people were terrified and requested that Moses speak to them instead of God, for they feared that if God spoke directly to them, they would die <Ex.20:18-19>. It is unfortunate that in our society today there is a similarity to this; rather than individuals attempting to communicate directly with God there is a preference to have someone else in the office of the priesthood to fill that roll. So, Moses gave them assurance that the display of God’s majesty in the lightening and thunder was not intended to fill them with fear, God had only come down as their Heavenly King to make a covenant with them; “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” <Ex.20:20 (NIV)>, and here we see that although God’s Law was given, only God’s presence with them would keep them (individually and as a group) from breaking the Law and sinning against God; a lesson that each of us need to learn, and maintain that presence of God.
What then was the chief reason for the giving of the Law? The Israelites had just been given their freedom from a life of slavery and were now being moulded into a nation with God as their leader, so there had to be guiding principles given so that they would know how to conduct themselves especially in their worship to God, for we see the first principle given is their approach to worship: “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.’” <Ex.20:23-26 (NIV)>. Unlike the Egyptians and the other nations that they would encounter in the journey, who had and worshipped many gods in various forms of worship, there was only One God for Israel – Jehovah, and He demands the holiness of His people, worship in His designated place, and the simplicity of such worship. Later we see this put into practice when the people all responded to the giving of the Law – “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” <Ex.24:3 (NIV)>, Moses set up their first altar of worship and offered sacrifices to God <Ex.24:4-8>.
There is another purpose to the Law, one that affects not only the Israelites but all individuals. In the same way that the Law applied to Israel, it applies to all individuals; it is a guiding principle to life in general, a guide to our worship of God, it guides us in our relationship to God and to other people; but we should remember it is only a guide. The Law does not justify any individual, nor does it make anyone holy; and although many have pointed to their “keeping of the Law” that does not make anyone sinless and righteous in God’s view. In the apostle Paul’s writing to the Galatian Church, we see that the Law is a burden, it was given by God to show us that we are not fit or holy to be in God’s presence; for righteousness is solely based on faith, faith in God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Law does not save us from our sin or our sin-nature, it only condemns us <see Rom.3:22-26; 8:1-4>, and compliance to the Law is not righteousness. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”” <Gal.3:10-12 (NIV); see Jas.2:10>. No human is capable of keeping the entire Law of God, and by breaking one portion we are guilty of breaking the whole Law, making us guilty sinners. Paul therefore, gives the reason or purpose of the Law; “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” <Gal.3:23-25 (NIV)>. Christ, by His sacrifice in His death on the Cross, paid the penalty that the Law demanded, which is the death of the sinner <Rom.6:23>. We observe then, that there is a way of redemption from the curse of the Law for “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” <Gal.3:13-14 (NIV)>.
So, we see that the giving of the Law to Israel was only an illustration of what was to come, not only for Israel but for all individuals; the promise made to Abraham was fulfilled to all people – Jew and Gentile, in Jesus Christ <see Gen.12:2-3; 22:18>. Where do you fit in to this picture; are you relying of keeping the commandments, or are you resting in the promise in Jesus Christ? Only Jesus Christ can deliver you from the curse and requirement of the Law which is eternal death – an eternal separation from God.