Remnant as seen in the Old Testament
Remnant – n (C) a small piece or amount of something that is left from a larger original piece or amount (Cambridge 1202).
Remnant – The portion of a community which is left, in the case of a devastating calamity; the portion upon which the possible future existence of the community depends (Interpreter’s 32).
Among the many themes that are seen throughout the books of the bible there is the prevalent theme of the remnant. The above definitions are just a preview of what the word means. During our overview of the bible this semester we see that the remnant of the people was always closely tied to the covenant that God established with his people, Israel.
Israel was chosen to be God’s people. God shows that he would always keep his covenant with the people no matter how few remained.
The beginnings of this remnant can be seen in God’s relationship with Abraham and his wife. Abraham had a relationship with God like he had with no other. He fully and completely trusted him and he believed that he could and would follow him the rest of his life. We see this relationship when he asks to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Gen 18:25-33 Abraham is pleading with God to find a remnant in the city so that the city would not be destroyed. God is unable to find the remnant for which Abraham pleads.
At times God did not expect a remnant to remain. In Joshua 10:40-43 God desired Joshua to leave no survivors, to totally destroy all the people. We see later in the bible where the people fail to do as God commands and then the people have trouble with the remnant that remains. The people of Israel adopt the ways of the remnant that remained. This led the people away from God.
But what was the reason that God let a remnant of the people of Israel remain when he allowed them to be scattered as in the diaspora? Was it the fault of the entire nation of Israel that they fell away from God? As man, we like to believe that there is always hope for us. God allows us that hope and so even if the people of Israel fell into secular ways and began to worship the pagan gods, he knew that there were always those that believed in the covenant that the people of Israel held with God. Even though the people of Israel were captive in Babylon, God allowed the remnant to remain and stay in hope of one day returning to God and their land.
So we see that remnant has both a positive and a negative meaning depending upon your point of view.
Peter Ellis explains to us that the prophets of Israel showed and taught the people of Israel that they could never be destroyed because of the divine promises. There would always be at least a hard core of faithful souls in Israel which in messianic times will become the foundation group of a new Israel (Men 274). Peter Ellis also gives us many more examples of the remnant (in the positive sense for the people of Israel) and compares this remnant to the New Testament separation of the good from the wicked (210).
A third meaning of this remnant deals with those of us that are attending Mount Angel seminary to discern our futures as priests in the Roman Catholic faith. It is one thing to be here, getting over the hurdles that may have been preventing us from attending prior to today and another with proceeding forward and totally trusting the Lord to do his will.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers asks us if we have even the slightest reliance on anything other than God (191). This goes to the very heart of any seminarian that may be considering the priesthood. It asks why you may even be considering it in the first place.
I truly believe that the positive aspect of the definition of remnant, which applies to the people of Israel, also applies to those who remain in hope with the Lord throughout time. The Lord expects this and knows that there will always be those that will remain in faith with Him no matter the circumstances. Can those of us living in the 21st century do any less than the people of God from over 2000 years ago? By understanding what the prophets of the Old Testament were telling the people of Israel, we now have the capability to understand and believe that we do not have to be a remnant of the people of God, but that we can be the people of God. But it is a choice that we make, whether we are of a secular or religious mindset.
Collins, John J. Isaiah. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press 1986
Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers
Ellis, Peter F. The Men and the Message of the Old Testament. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press 1963
Remnant. Cambridge International Dictionary of English. Editor-in-chief Proctor, Paul. New York: Cambridge 1995
Remnant. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Buttrick, George Arthur – Dictionary Editor. New York: Abingdon Press. 1962