After the incredible power that the Lord displayed at Mount Carmel through Elijah in 1 Kings 18 with the killing of 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel threatened Elijah that his life was now in jeopardy because of these prophets of Baal. In response, Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. In 1 Kings 19:14, he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” He was not able to discern the 7,000 who “have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him (verse 18).” Paul quoted this in Romans 11:4-5 in reference to the remnant, those that return or remain, speaking of those who would be overcomers, spiritual Israel.
The term is often used to identify the Hebrew people who remain firm in their faith despite significant life challenges and threats. They continue to trust in the Lord despite all obstacles. Consider Isaiah 10:20-23, a prophecy of the return of the House of Israel from Assyrian captivity:
“Now in that day, the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, maybe like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.”
No Other Gods
The Book of Isaiah starts with a complete indictment of the spiritual condition of Israel (see Isaiah 1:4-7), concluding that “unless the Lord of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would be like Gomorrah” (verse 9). Like Elijah before him, only a few would commit themselves to the Lord’s righteousness and not succumb to idolatry. Isn’t this a foundational principle of one’s relationship with God? The first two of the ten commandments say, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above, on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5). Idolatry can take on many different forms, not just the creation of idols for worship.
In Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah seeks Isaiah in light of Assyria’s attack against Jerusalem, the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah assures the king, “Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land” (verse 7). Although Jerusalem was surrounded by the enemy so that the people could not work the fields for food sources, God had a provision:
“Then this shall be the sign for you: you will eat this year what grows of itself, in the second year what springs from the same, and in the third year, sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem will go forth a remnant and out of Mount Zion survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Therefore, thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, ‘He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there, and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it.’” (Isaiah 37:30-34)
The Lord promised He would provide food even when the people could not work the fields in the first and second years, and then, they could sow, reap, plant, and eat their fruit. When the remnant would take root downward and bear fruit upward, He was teaching them the spiritual principle that would allow them to survive against any obstacles. Psalm 1:2-3 speaks to this principle in light of the believer’s attitude toward the Word of God, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and His law, he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
In Jeremiah 17:7-8, the Lord addresses the one who trusts in the Lord, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”
Fruitfulness has always been the Lord’s priority in His relationship with His people; the believer’s willingness to trust God and prioritize His Word are vehicles to spirituality.
“But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths; for they will feed and lie down with no one to make them tremble. Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away His judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more.” (Zephaniah 3:12-15)
Through the prophet Zephaniah, God prophesied a coming restoration of Israel, to be fulfilled in the Kingdom Age, the 1,000-year reign of the Messiah. In it, the Lord further defined the remnant as a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord. They live by God’s standards and lie down with no one to make them tremble. The ultimate victory over every enemy, including their sin nature, is found when the Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more.
“Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Then the jealousy of Ephraim [Northern Kingdom] will depart, and those who harass Judah [Southern Kingdom] will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, and Judah will not harass Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together, they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab, and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them. And the Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt, and He will wave His hand over the River with His scorching wind, and He will strike it into seven streams and make men walk over dry-shod. And there will be a highway [mesillah – a major roadway, a key travel route] from Assyria for the remnant of His people who will be left, just as there was for Israel in the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt.” (Isaiah 11:11-16)
When Isaiah refers to recovery the second time, he is not referring to the return from Assyrian captivity, but rather the second recovery to take place in the Millennial Reign of Messiah. This passage refers to the return of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms to their Messiah. None of each kingdom’s enemies during their first return will be able to interrupt their passage. Even rivers and streams, which would otherwise be an obstacle, will be dried up to make men walk over dry-shod. The highway will be a major roadway, a key travel route to bring the remnant under the dominion of their God to walk in His righteousness. Isaiah 35:8-10 tells us it is a Highway of Holiness:
“A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway [derek – a traveled pathway] of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
Across Every Generation
God’s plan is for the remnant of God to be represented in each generation as a means of fully manifesting His righteousness to anyone in search of a righteous God. During the captivities, the remnant was represented by Esther, Mordecai, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to name a few. Each one, in their way, faced the challenge of an authority who wished to supplant the lordship of Yahweh. In Ezekiel 6:8-10, “However, I will leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations. Then they will know that I am the Lord; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”
When David was first anointed King, he was 30 years old, and it took place at Hebron; Jerusalem was still under the control of the Jebusites. It was the Lord’s intention that David would ultimately reign from Jerusalem and not Hebron. Hebron means “association” or “affiliation,” a reference to one’s horizontal relationship to others. On the other hand, Jerusalem represents the presence of God, a vertical relationship to Him. In 2 Samuel 5:5, At Hebron, he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem, he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah. Yahweh’s authority over all of Israel takes place at Jerusalem. The believer’s relationship with God begins at Jerusalem where His presence is experienced. He is a jealous God.
“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Thus says the Lord, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness—Israel when it went to find its rest.” The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:1-3)