A Theology of the Remnant

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in the Prophets, the theology of the remnant is developed. The term is used to mean something left over, especially the righteous people of God after divine judgment.

Noah and his family may be understood as survivors, or a remnant, of a divine judgment in the flood (Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-23). The same could be said of Lot when Sodom was destroyed (Genesis 18:17-33; 19:1-29); Jacob’s family in Egypt (Genesis 45:7); Elijah and the 7,000 faithful followers of the Lord (1 Kings 19:17-18) and Israelites going into captivity (Ezekiel 12:1-16). In each case they were survivors (and the minority) because God chose to show mercy to those who had believed steadfastly in Him and had been righteous in their lives.

In some of the Minor Prophets these ideas are further developed such as in Amos 9:8-9, 11-15. This new life could be realised if one and all would repent, turn to the Lord, and be saved (Amos 5:4-6, 14-15). These ideas can also be seen in Hosea 2:14-23; 3:4-5; 6:1-3; 11:8-11; 13:14; 14:1-9 and Micah 2:12-13; 4:6-8; 5:2-5,7-9; 7:7-20.

The remnant doctrine was so important to Isaiah that he named one of his sons Shear-Jashub, meaning “A Remnant Shall Return” (Isaiah 7:3). The faithful would survive the onslaughts of the Assyrian army (Isaiah 4:2-6; 12:1-6) as illustrated by the remarkable deliverance of the few people in Jerusalem from the siege of the city by the Assyrians (Isaiah 36-38).

Many remnant passages are closely tied with the future king, the Messiah, who would be the majestic ruler of those who seek his mercies (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-16; 32:1-8; 33:17-24). These passages have a strong eschatological thrust, expecting future generations to be the remnant. In that future, there would be a new people, a new community, a new nation and have a strong faith in God.

Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah thus raised a chorus. Only a few would survive judgment events, basically because they repented and rested their future on the compassion of their Lord. An important segment of the remnant would be those who were afflicted (Isaiah 14:32). Later, Zephaniah spoke of the humble and the lowly as the ones who would find refuge among the remnant (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13).

Jeremiah announced that Judah would be destroyed for rebelling against the Lord of the covenant. The institutions of the state would be eliminated; many would lose their lives; others would be taken into Exile. In the Exile, those who believed in the one true God would be gathered for a return to the Promised Land. God would create a new community. Statements of hope and promise for the remnant are concentrated in Jeremiah 30-33. Ezekiel agreed with Jeremiah that the remnant of Judah taken to Babylon would be the source of people fit for the Lord’s new community. These few would participate in a new Exodus and settle in the Promised Land around a new Temple (Ezekiel 40-48).

Zechariah spoke in glowing terms of how the remnant, the returned exiles to Jerusalem, would prosper (Zechariah 8:6-17; 9:9-17; 14:1-21). Ezra recognized the people who had returned to Jerusalem as members of the remnant, but in danger of re-enacting the sins of the past (Ezra 9:7-15).

In the Brit Hadashah (New Covenant Scriptures), Paul quoted (Romans 9:25-33) from Hosea and from Isaiah to demonstrate that the saving of a remnant from among the Jewish people was still part of the Lord’s method of redeeming His people. There would always be a future for anyone among the covenant people who would truly turn to the Lord for salvation.