Something left over, especially the righteous people of God after divine judgment. Several Hebrew words express the remnant idea: yether, “that which is left over”; she' ar, “that which remains”; she' rith, “residue”; pelitah, “one who escapes”; sarid, “a survivor”; and, sheruth, “one loosed from bonds.” In the New Testament, remnant or left over is the equivalent of the Greek words: kataleimma, leimma, and loipos.
Several activities of everyday life are associated with these words. Objects or people may be separated from a larger group by selection, assignment, consumption (eating food), or by destruction. What is left over is the residue, or, in the case of people, those who remain after an epidemic, famine, drought, or war.
Noah and his family may be understood as survivors, or a remnant, of a divine judgment in the flood (Genesis 6:5-8;
Genesis 7:1-23). The same could be said of Lot when Sodom was destroyed (Genesis 18:17-33;
Genesis 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). They were survivors because the Lord chose to show mercy to those who had believed steadfastly in Him and had been righteous in their lives.
About 750 B.C. Amos found that many people in Israel believed that God would protect all of them and their institutions. With strong language he tore down their mistaken ideas (Amos 3:12-15;
Amos 5:2-3,Amos 5:18-20;
Amos 9:1-6). Divine judgment would be poured out on all Israel. He corrected the tenet that everyone would live happily and prosper (Amos 9:10) with the doctrine that only a few would survive and rebuild the nation (Amos 9:8-9,Amos 9:11-15). This new life could be realized if one and all would repent, turn to the Lord, and be saved (Amos 5:4-6,Amos 5:14-15).
Hosea's book does not use the remnant terminology, but the concept of the Lord's mercy extended to those experiencing judgment is present in several places (Hosea 2:14-23;
Hosea 14:1-9) including calls to repentance and descriptions of what the remnant may enjoy in life.
The Book of Micah has much the same emphasis. After announcements of judgment, the Lord proclaimed that people would be assembled like sheep and led by the Lord (Micah 2:12-13) as their king (Micah 4:6-8). The Messiah would give special attention to them (Micah 5:2-5,Micah 5:7-9). The climax of the book is an exaltation of God as the one who pardons and removes sin from their lives after the judgment had passed (Micah 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;
Isaiah 12:1-6) as illustrated by the remarkable deliverance of the few people in Jerusalem from the seige 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;
Isaiah 33:17-24). These passages have a strong eschatological thrust, expecting future generations to be the remnant. Other passages looked to the generation of Isaiah's day to provide the remnant. Numerous statements in the latter part of the book have an evident futuristic orientation. In that future, there would be a new people, a new community, a new nation, and a strong faith in one God. This remnant would be personified in the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1).
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;
Jeremiah announced that Judah would be destroyed for rebelling against the Lord of the covenant. The political, religious, and social institutions of the state would be eliminated; many would lose their lives; others would be taken into Exile for seventy years. 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
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;
Zechariah 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 New Testament, 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 (9–11).
George Herbert Livingston