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What is a remnant in the Bible?

A remnant is a portion of something left over from the whole. For example, there might be a remnant of people, a remnant of food, or a remnant of fabric. In biblical terms, we most often think of remnant in reference to people, and most specifically as related to Israel. Throughout the Bible we see numerous examples of God saving a remnant of people for Himself, either physically, spiritually, or both.

The first place that we see a remnant is with Noah and his family. God judged the earth for its great sinfulness, but He kept Noah and His family alive, set apart to Himself to restore life to the earth (Genesis 6:17–18). God also preserved a remnant of His people when He placed Joseph in charge of Egypt to make sure there was food for His people when the great famine came to the land (Genesis 45:7). Another example of a remnant is when God reassured Elijah that He had preserved a remnant of Israelites that had not bowed to Baal at a time when most Israelites were worshipping the false god (1 Kings 19:18).

During King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib of Assyria threatened the southern kingdom of Judah. At that time the Lord spoke to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah: "the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this" (2 Kings 19:30–31). Sennacherib's plans were foiled when God struck down 185,000 Assyrian warriors in their camp. But God did judge His people for their sins of turning from Him and worshipping idols (Deuteronomy 28; 2 Kings 24:3–4). Before Sennacherib's threat, the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by Assyria around 740 BC (2 Kings 17). The southern kingdom of Judah was taken captive by Babylon, who had also conquered Assyria, in several stages between 607 and 586 BC. Second Kings 24 describes king Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem.

However, God still reserved a remnant. About seven years prior to Nebuchadnezzar's siege, God warned the people through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25). In part, He said, "This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste" (Jeremiah 25:11–12). While Daniel was in Babylon, he realized the seventy years were coming to an end and sought God in prayer (Daniel 9). Ezra 1:1 records, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing." The proclamation was for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The local people were to assist with the needed items (Ezra 1:1–4).

While God judged His people for their sins, His intention was always to purify His people and restore them to Himself. We see that many of the Israelites returned and that they turned back to the Lord (Ezra 8:35–36; Nehemiah 8—10; Haggai 1:12–14).

Isaiah 46:3–4 records this assurance from God to the Israelites: "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried in the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made and I will bear; I will carry and will save" (Isaiah 46:3–4). Paul reminds us in Romans that even though God has extended His grace to all people, He has still kept a remnant of Israel and is still unfolding His plan for the Israelites (Romans 11).

It is not only Israel for whom God has plans. He offers salvation to all of humanity. Sadly, only a remnant will turn to Him in faith and receive His grace (Matthew 7:13–14). However, that remnant will be innumerable. Revelation 7:9 describes a scene John sees in heaven of those who will come out of the end-times tribulation as "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothes in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Revelation 7:9–10). Imagine just how many have been justified before God by His grace through faith throughout the centuries (Romans 4; Galatians 2:21; 3:7–9; Ephesians 2:1–10). Just as God is faithful to the remnant of Israel, so is He faithful to the remnant of humanity who have become His children through Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16–18; Ephesians 1:3–14). He is worthy of all praise!

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