“The Recurring Remnant”Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford
In Romans 9-11, Paul is concerned with what I like to call the problem of Israel. If salvation through Jesus is the triumphant conclusion of God’s plan for His people, how come the earthly nation of Israel, which had been God’s people for 1500 years, largely rejected it?
One of Paul’s answers to this conundrum appears in Romans 10:1-5. There, Paul notes that the failure of Israel to accept Christ is not as complete as it might seem. In the time of Ahab, the prophet Elijah thought he was alone, but there were 7000 others who were faithful to God. So too, Paul observes that there is a righteous remnant of Jews who did believe the gospel.
Though Paul doesn’t expand on his point, the righteous remnant is a theme throughout the Bible. Starting from the time when God first chooses a people to be His own, they show a dismaying fondness for apostasy. Eventually, God is forced to judge them, a tiny, faithful minority survives the judgment, they grow and prosper and become strong, and the cycle repeats itself.
This pattern begins even before the Israelites enter the land. 600,000 men saw God reveal Himself in fire at the top of Sinai and pledged themselves to Him. Of those thousands, only two remained faithful and crossed the Jordan into Canaan.
Once they are in the land, the problems continue. By the end of the time of the judges, Israel has been overrun by the Philistines and God’s dwelling place at Shiloh has been destroyed. The Israelites really don’t recover until the kingship of David.
The era of the divided kingdom sees more of the same. Though the house of Ahab and the worshipers of Baal seem so powerful in the time of Elijah, they are destroyed by Hazael, Elisha, and Jehu. Only the righteous remnant (comprising people like the Rechabites) endures. According to 2 Chronicles 30:11, another righteous remnant from the northern tribes comes humbly to worship in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians.
The Assyrians are an instrument of judgment against the kingdom of Judah too. The remnant of Isaiah 10:20-21 is contextually a remnant that returns from Assyrian oppression, and it is made up of both Israelites and Judahites. As the Jeremiah 24 prophecy of good figs and bad figs makes clear, the same pattern holds during the Babylonian invasion and captivity.
There is a powerful lesson here for us. We want the Lord’s church to be thriving and strong, and we are grieved when we see so many brethren abandon the ancient pattern for the wisdom of the age. However, there never has been a time when God’s people were thriving and strong yet remained faithful. The divisions that have taken place since the Restoration only confirm the rule. Sadly, whenever the righteous prosper, they start trusting in themselves and cease to be righteous.
We should not yearn to belong to those who have got it all figured out and succeed through their own wisdom and strength. We should yearn instead to belong to the remnant, those who cling to God and are roundly mocked for doing so, always failing, always dwindling, always defeated.
Strangely enough, though it always looks like the remnant is about to be destroyed, it never is. Against the odds, God’s people endured through disaster in the wilderness, captivity in Babylon, and persecution across the Mediterranean. Indeed, they triumphed. No matter how bad things look, if we endure, we will triumph too, not because the remnant is so powerful, but because He is.