A remnant of God's people returns from exile captivity
Also see Jews | Israel the divided kingdom

REMNAMT in scriptures [BibleGateway Search]

Cross Reference Bible links
Genesis 45:7   |   2 Kings 19:4   |   Ezra 9:15   |   Nehemiah 1:3   |   Isaiah 10:22   |   Is 37:4   |   (Is 66:19 "such as escape")   |   Zechariah 8:12   |   (Zechariah 10:6-9 bringing back the cast off)   |   Romans 9:27   |   Romans 11:5   |  

Micah 7:18 - Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and passes over the disobedience of the remnant of his heritage? He doesn’t retain his anger forever, because he delights in loving kindness.

REMNANT [Holman Bible Dictionary]

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 6:1-7; 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 3:4-5; Hosea 6:1-3; Hosea 11:8-11; Hosea 13:14; 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 11:1-16; Isaiah 32:1-8; 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; Zephaniah 3:12-13).

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 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; Zechariah 9:9-17; 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

REMNANT [Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology]

Leftovers or remainders, whether of daily food (Ru 2:14,18), food at the Passover (Le 7:16,18), anointing oil (Le 14:17), or even and especially people who survive a major disaster. A remnant of people is what is left of a community following a catastrophe (e.g., Noah's family after the flood, Gen 6:5-8:22; Lot's family after the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. 19 those who remained in the land after the deportations of 597 b.c., Ezra 9:8; Jer 24:8; 52:15; those left behind under Gedaliah, Jer 40:6, 11, 15; or the Jews who came out of exile Ezra 9:8, 13; Zech 8:6, 11-12). Terms for remnant in the Old Testament derive from six roots and occur some 540 times (forms of Heb. sr, ytr, plt, srd; Gk., leimma, hypoleimma, loipos, kataloipos). Remnant, frequently in the sense of residue or refugee, takes on theological hues when it becomes the object of God's address and/or action.

Sociologically the remnant could be described variously as refugees, a community subgroup, or a sect. Canonically one may find language of remnant in the Pentateuch, in historical books (e.g., of groups subjugated or not yet subjugated), in the prophets, and in the New Testament. Historically, an illustration of remnant are the seven thousand in Israel who in times of apostasy of the Ahab/Jezebel era had not defected from the Lord (1 Kings 19:9-18). Theologically, remnant language clusters in several Old Testament books, the authors of which lived at some hinge point in history: Isaiah (37:31-32) and Micah (4:7; 7:18) near the time of Israel's collapse; Jeremiah (11:23; 50:20) and Zephaniah (2:7-9) near the time of Judah's fall; and Paul near the time of the emergence of the church (Rom 11:5). Remnant language is associated with both judgment and salvation.

Remnant and the Oracle of Judgment. The language of remnant in announcements of judgment was used to emphasize the totality of the judgment—whether of non-Israelites or Israelites—so that no trace, no remnant would in the end remain. Obadiah, whose book targets Edom, asserts, "There will be no survivors from the house of Esau" (v. 18). Damascus will become a ruinous heap, and the remnant of Syria will cease (Isa 17:3). Most conclusive is the statement against Babylon, which combines the ideas of reputation (name) and remnant, perhaps as an idiom for total destruction: "I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors (sa'ar)" (Isa 14:22; cf. 2 Sam 14:7). For Israel especially language of remnant was also invoked to disabuse any who might consider themselves exceptions to the predicted casualties. Should there be temporary survivors of a catastrophe, such as Nebuchadnezzar's siege, they would ultimately not be spared (Jer 21:7). Such news of total destruction was evidence of God's determination to proceed in judgment, but the news was intended to persuade vacillating persons to spare their lives by defecting to the Babylonians (Jer 21:8-9).

The name Shear-Jashub ("a remnant will return, " Isa 7:3), often thought to be seminal to the prophets' thought on remnant, is, even in context, ambiguous in meaning. Did the expression portend misfortune, or did it convey that all was not lost? The expression, "a remnant will return, " when applied later to Israel, became, even if marginally, a message of hope (Isa 10:20-23; 37:31-32; = 2 Kings 19:30-31).

Remnant and Oracles of Salvation. Oracles of salvation may follow immediately on the heels of announcements of judgment, and paradoxically, both entail a remnant. In Amos 9 the destruction is said to be total (vv. 1-4, 10b); still there is a glimmer of hope: "I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob" (v. 8b). One frequent proposal at reconciling these opposites is to resort to the theory of editorial splicing, which softens the severity of the message but does not deal with the theological dissonance. A more acceptable answer takes God's justice into account. God will destroy the sinful kingdom—not a territory, but the aggregate of wicked leaders. All these shall perish. But not all the populace is equally guilty, and while the pious do not escape the effects of the destruction, God in his justice spares them; they become the remnant. Paradigms for wholesale destruction in which some are nevertheless spared exist in the story of Noah's family in the flood and Lot's escape from Sodom.

Since acceptance with God is not based on merit, one dimension of remnant theology is its message of God's grace (Isa 1:9; Amos 5:15). Judgment, whereby all is destroyed, is not the last word. Beyond judgment is God's readiness, because of his loyal love, to continue with his people. It is too mechanical to think of wrath and grace within God vying with each other for the upper hand, but given that hypothetical scenario, the message is that God's grace triumphs in the end.

The remnant is future-oriented. What prospects has the remnant that becomes, as in the exile, the carrier of God's promise? The prospect was for the exiles to be gathered together and to return to the homeland (Jer 23:3; 31:7-9; Micah 2:12-13; 4:6-7). The exodus from the exile, like the exodus from Egypt, was accompanied with miracles (Isa 11:11-16). The solution to the tension between God's earlier unchangeable promise and Israel's sad history lies in the remnant. Those returning with Zerubbabel (Hag 1:12, 14; Zech 8:6, 11, 12) and those returning at the time of Ezra (Ezra 9:13-15) regarded themselves as that remnant. Isaiah had graphically depicted the Assyrian takeover with the image of God cutting down the tall trees and lopping off boughs with "terrifying power" (Isa 10:28-34; NRSV ). Equally graphic was to be the recovery as "the outcasts of Israel" and the "dispersed of Judah" would be gathered together. Also, there would emerge a shoot (remnant?) from the stump of Jesse (Isa 11:1). Upon this shoot, customarily interpreted as the Messiah, rests the sevenfold spirit (vv. 2-3a) with the promise that he would rule in righteousness (v. 5). The eschatological picture of the cessation of all hostilities among humans and among animal leans on the existence of a remnant. In the prophet's mouth, remnant language for Israel is hope-engendering.

The remnant was the recipient of other promises: granting of pardon (Mic 7:18-20); God's everlasting love (Jer 31:2); taking root (2 Kings 19:30; cf. Isa 37:31-32); removal of enemies and becoming established like a lion in the forest (Mic 4:7-9); the Lord's promise to be a garland of glory for the remnant (Isa 28:5-6); and a grant by God for the people to possess all things (Zec 8:6).

The texts announcing salvation for the remnant raise the question of the relation of the remnant to its base group. Jeremiah addresses this question for his situation: God's future lay with those who had been taken to Babylon (the good figs), not with those who stayed in the land (the bad figs, Jer. 24). The Qumran community saw itself as the "remnant of thy people [Israel]" (1QM14.8-9; cf. CD 2.11). Paul clarified the relationship between the remnant, those who accepted the gospel, and the larger body of unbelieving Jews, by noting: (1) that the remnant represented the ongoing activity of God with the chosen people, "a remnant chosen by grace" (Rom 11:5) since it is the spiritual Israel; (2) that the function of the Jewish remnant, to which are not attached the Gentile believers, is to serve as a vehicle of retrieval or recovery for the larger Jewish community; and (3) that the exclusion of the larger is for a limited time (Rom 11:11-32).

One might ask, of course, how it is that God holds with the remnant, which is usually the small rather than the large body, the minority rather than the majority. Where is God's ultimate triumph? One answer is to examine the larger sweep of salvation history. The story of the primeval history was discontinued in favor of the election of Abram, a remnant, so to speak, from the larger group. Similarly the New Testament story discontinued the story of mainstream Israel and related the story of the faithful remnant. This remnant, however, received from Jesus a mission that was world-embracing (Matt 28:18-20). The remnant was called to redemptive activity. The Book of Revelation depicts, as does the primeval history, a great diversity of people, people now in God's presence. The remnant has accomplished God's purpose. Questions on the order of majority/minority may be misplaced. By God's measure, more on the order of righteousness, his triumph is not in doubt (Zep 3:11-13). The doctrine of the remnant is in part that failure of a larger body will not impair God's purposes.

Because the criterion is not ethnicity but righteousness, the Scripture applies "remnant" language to peoples other than Israel. In a pivotal text Amos speaks of a remnant of Edom, interpreted by James as referring to all humankind, which will come under the saving umbrella of David (Amos 9:12). Philistines, like Judah, are envisioned as a "remnant for our God."

Elmer A. Martens


Remnant is the translation of yether, "what is left over" (Deuteronomy 3:11; 28:54; Joshua 12:4, etc.); of she'-ar, "the rest" (Ezra 3:8 the King James Version; Isaiah 10:20-21,22; 11:16, etc.; Zephaniah 1:4); more frequently of she'-erith, "residue," etc. (2 Kings 19:4,31; 2 Chronicles 34:9; Ezra 9:14; Isaiah 14:30, etc.). As the translation of the last-mentioned two words, "remnant" has a special significance in the prophecies of Isaiah, as denoting "a holy seed," or spiritual kernel, of the nation which should survive impending judgment and become the germ of the people of God, being blessed of God and made a blessing (compare Micah 2:12; 4:7; 5:7-8; 7:18; also Zephaniah 2:7; 3:13; Haggai 1:12,14; Zechariah 8:6; Joel 2:32). Paul, in Romans 9:27, quotes from Isaiah 10:22 f, "the remnant (kataleimma, "what is left over"] shall be saved"; compare also Romans 11:5 (where the word is leimma) with 2 Kings 19:4. Several other Hebrew words are less frequently translated "remnant": 'ahar, "after"; yathar, "to be left over," etc.; in the New Testament (the King James Version) we have also loipos, "left," "remaining" (Matthew 22:6; Revelation 11:13, etc.).

For "remnant" the Revised Version (British and American) has "overhanging part" (Exodus 26:12), "rest" (Leviticus 14:18, etc.); on the other hand gives "remnant" for "posterity" (Genesis 45:7), for "rest" (Joshua 10:20; 1 Chronicles 4:43; Isaiah 10:19), for "residue" (Haggai 2:2; Zechariah 8:11), etc.

W. L. Walker

REMNANT [Thompson Chain Reference]

Home | Keyword Index