“hangs.” After speaking about love, Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40 KJV). An essential part of every biblical household were the pegs in the walls and posts from which things could be hung. Even tents sometimes had pegs in the tent-poles, or at least some kind of hook tied to the tent poles so that clothes and other items could be kept in order and off the ground.
It was important that pegs for hanging things were made of good solid wood so that they would be sturdy and not break off. Wood from vines, for example, was not good for pegs, as we learn in Ezekiel. God asked Ezekiel, “Is wood ever taken from it [a vine] to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on?” (Ezek. 15:3 NIV). The expected answer was “No, they do not.” A peg made from the wood of a vine would break when something heavy was hung from it. In Isaiah 22, God said He would remove Shebna, the steward in charge of Hezekiah’s palace, and replace him with Eliakim. Shebna had been a disappointment, but God said that He would make Eliakim like a firm peg, so firm that all the glory of his family could hang from him. “I will drive him [Eliakim] like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars” (Isa. 22:23-24).
Sadly, Eliakim was human, and eventually was not able to perform his duties, and even though he had once been a firm peg, he was broken off and what he supported was destroyed. “…the peg that was driven into a firm place [Eliakim] will give way, be cut off, and fall, and the load on it will be destroyed” (Isa. 22:25 HCSB). The word “destroyed” is accurate because many different things were hung from pegs, and it was common that when a peg broke holding a clay jar, or a skin of wine or milk, the load was destroyed.
Psalms speaks of a wineskin being hung from a peg. People hung their wineskins from pegs to keep them from being accidentally kicked, and also because they were less likely to spill when hung. “Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees” (Psalm 119:83 NIV). The wineskin was “in the smoke” because in the biblical era common houses did not have chimneys. If a fire was built in a house, for warmth and/or to cook, it was usually built in the middle of the room. The room would fill with smoke, but since people sat, ate, and slept on the floor, the really thick smoke usually stayed above them. In contrast, the poor wineskin was hung on a peg up in the thick smoke. What a wonderful Psalm! The psalmist says that even if he feels like a wineskin in the smoke, neglected and in a difficult situation, he would not forget God’s decrees and laws.
Wall pegs were vital to ancient living. They gave order and organization to the ancient household and held clothes, water jars, and other things that were essential to life. Thus it is not surprising that one of the many names of Jesus Christ is “the tent peg.” Zechariah 10:4 has three of the names of Jesus, the “cornerstone,” the “tent peg,” and the “battle bow.” “From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler” (Zechariah 10:4 NIV). Calling Jesus Christ “the tent peg” shows how essential he is to the organization of our lives. He does much more than give us everlasting life. He organizes our lives in a meaningful way, does a lot to keep us out of the dirt of life, and helps keep us from some of the kicks and bumps of life. In return, we should realize that we are hung up for all to see, and like a nice piece of clothing on a peg reflects the wealth and value of the household, we can reflect the glory of Christ to those around us.
In Matthew 22:40 Jesus is using a very familiar scene in every home, and even in tents, of a peg or nail from which were hung wineskins and many other valuable things. In a very real sense, as a wineskin or article of clothing hangs from a peg and depends on the peg to keep it orderly and effective, the laws and commandments depend on love for God and love for mankind to be truly orderly and effective. It helps us understand how love is the peg that keeps the commandments orderly if we remember that the Hebrew word “torah” does not mean “law,” but “instruction.” Most of the “laws” in the Law of Moses are individual commands, certainly, but more than that, they are examples that serve as guides for us from which to build godly rules and laws to govern our society. For example, the Law tells us what to do if a person’s ox gores a person (Exod. 21:28-32), but does not tell us what to do about other animals that might be dangerous. We are to understand that the rules about oxen are “instruction” that we then use to build other, similar righteous rules and laws.
One of Jesus’ complaints about the rules the religious leaders had put in place was that they did not properly apply the instruction of the Torah when making up their rules. So, for example, they realized a person could pull an animal out of ditch on the Sabbath, but believed that healing a human being on the Sabbath was breaking the Sabbath (Luke 13:14; 14:3-6). Similarly, the Jews wrongly thought that the message of Torah was to withdraw from sinners, while Jesus properly understood Torah and spent time with them. When questioned about it, he said to them, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
With the above background about tent pegs, we are now able to see the wonderful point Jesus was making when he spoke of the law and commandments hanging from love. He was speaking to the Pharisees, who were trying to trap him in his words (Matt. 22:15). One of them asked him which was the greatest commandment in the Law, to which he answered, love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor like yourself. Then Jesus added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40 KJV). Jesus was making the point that loving God and loving our neighbor are like a great peg in God’s house that give order and meaning to the rest of His commandments. Without love the commandments lie broken, or in a disorganized heap, on the muddy floor, not able to profit us or others. Without love, the commandments are just heartless demands, but with love, they become the godly fabric upon which a godly society can be built. This should have been a huge lesson to the Pharisees, who were very particular about keeping the fine points of the Law, but often did so without love. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but instead let us understand the point that Jesus was making, that love is the essential peg from which every commandment hangs, and that gives order and meaning to the commandments.
As a final comment, we should point out that the REV and the King James Version gives us the correct and literal rendering of the Greek text by using the word “hang.” However, most Christians do not understand the common illustration that Jesus was making by comparing love to a great wall peg, so modern versions such as the HCSB, ESV, NASB, NET, and NIV, say “depend” instead of “hang.” While “depend” gets the general sense of “hang,” some of the depth of what Jesus was saying is lost.