There shall be a handful of corn - The earth shall be exceedingly fruitful. Even a handful of corn sown on the top of a mountain shall grow up strong and vigorous; and it shall be, in reference to crops in other times as the cedars of Lebanon are to common trees or shrubs: and as the earth will bring forth in handfuls, so the people shall be multiplied who are to consume this great produce.
And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth - There have been many puzzling criticisms concerning this verse. What I have given I believe to be the sense.
There shall be an handful of corn - “Of grain,” for so the word means in the Scriptures. The “general” idea in this verse is plain. It is, that, in the time of the Messiah, there would be an ample supply of the fruits of the earth; or that his reign would tend to the promotion of prosperity, industry, abundance. It would be as if fields of grain waved everywhere, even on the tops of mountains, or as if the hills were cultivated to the very summit, so that the whole land would be covered over with waving, smiling harvests. There is a difference of opinion, however, and consequently of interpretation, as to the meaning of the word rendered “handful.” This word - פסה pissâh - occurs nowhere else, and it is impossible, therefore, to determine its exact meaning. By some it is rendered “handful;” by others, “abundance.” The former interpretation is adopted by Prof. Alexander, and is found in the older interpreters generally; the latter is the opinion of Gesenius, DeWette, and most modern expositors.
It is also the interpretation in the Syriac. The Vulgate and the Septuagint render it “strength” - meaning something “firm” or “secure,” “firmamentum,” στήριγμα stērigma According to the explanation which regards the word as meaning “handful,” the idea is, that there would be a great contrast between the small beginnings of the Messiah‘s reign and its ultimate triumph - as if a mere handful of grain were sown on the top of a mountain - on a place little likely to produce anything - a place usually barren and unproductive - which would grow into an abundant harvest, so that it would wave everywhere like the cedar trees of Lebanon. According to the other interpretation, the idea is simply that there would be an “abundance” in the land. The whole land would be cultivated, even to the tops of the hills, and the evidences of plenty would be seen everywhere. It is impossible to determine which of these is the correct idea; but both agree in that which is essential - that the reign of the Messiah would be one of peace and plenty. The former interpretation is the most poetic, and the most beautiful. It accords, also, with other representations - as in the parable of the grain of mustard-seed, and the parable of the leaven; and it accords, also, with the fact that the beginning of the Gospel was small in comparison with what would be the ultimate result. This would seem to render that interpretation the most probable.
In the earth - In the land; the land of Canaan; the place where the kingdom of the Messiah would be set up.
Upon the top of the mountains - In places “like” the tops of mountains. The mountains and hills were seldom cultivated to the tops. Yet here the idea is, that the state of things under the Messiah would be as if a handful of grain were sown in the place most unlikely to produce a harvest, or which no one thought of cultivating. No one needs to be told how well this would represent the cold and barren human heart in general; or the state of the Jewish world in respect to true religion, at the time when the Saviour appeared.
The fruit thereof - That which would spring up from the mere handful of grain thus sown.
Shall shake like Lebanon - Like the cedar trees of Lebanon. The harvest will wave as those tall and stately trees do. This is an image designed to show that the growth would be strong and abundant, far beyond what could have been anticipated from the small quantity of the seed sown, and the barrenness of the soil. The word rendered “shake” means more than is implied in our word “shake” or “wave.” It conveys also the idea of a rushing sound, such as that which whistles among cedar or pine trees. “The origin of the Hebrew verb,” says Gesenius, “and its primary idea lies in the “noise” and “crashing” which is made by concussion.” Hence, it is used to denote the “rustling” motion of grain waving in the wind, and the sound of the wind whistling through trees when they are agitated by it.
And they of the city - Most interpreters suppose that this refers to Jerusalem, as the center of the Messiah‘s kingdom. It seems more probable, however, that it is not designed to refer to Jerusalem, or to any particular city, but to stand in contrast with the top of the mountain. Cities and hills would alike flourish; there would be prosperity everywhere - in barren and unpopulated wastes, and in places where people had been congregated together. The “figure” is changed, as is not uncommon, but the “idea” is retained. The indications of prosperity would be apparent everywhere.
Shall flourish like grass of the earth - As grass springs out of the ground, producing the idea of beauty and plenty. See the notes at Isaiah 44:3-4.