In Isaiah 1:9 we read

‘Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah’.

This is Isaiah’s first mention of the ‘remnant’ – the ‘survivors’. The context is that of God’s judgement upon his sinful, degenerate nation. Here Isaiah tells us that the survival of this remnant is due solely to the gracious hand of God, and not at all due to the merit of those who survive.

Isaiah again refers to this surviving remnant in 6:13, calling it ‘the holy seed’. Again the context is that of judgement. Similarly in 10:20-22 only a remnant survives God’s holy and righteous judgement.  The survival of this remnant is accomplished by ‘the zeal of the LORD Almighty [37:31,32].

The remnant is described as those who ‘rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel’ and have returned to the Mighty God [10:20,21]. Although they were as worthy of judgement and destruction as the whole nation, yet, by God’s grace and by God’s hand, they are people of true faith. This draws our attention to an important biblical perspective: that while all of the physical descendants of Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob) were as a nation called ‘the people of God’ or ‘the holy nation’, not all of these physical descendants were people of faith. Not all of them acknowledged God. There always was a distinction between the nation and those who believed. Time and time again the Bible reports the rebellion and idolatry of Israel. Unbelief, not faith, characterized the nation. Unbelief, not faith, was the historic attitude of these people.

This is evident immediately after the exodus [Exodus 14:11,12; 16:7,8; 32:1]; during the period of the judges [Judges 2:16-19]; and during Solomon’s famous reign [1Kings 11:1-8]. From its very beginning Israel, the northern kingdom, embraced idolatry [1Kings 12:26-33]. Its first king, Jeroboam, was forever afterwards referred to as ‘Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin’. The southern kingdom, Judah, while at times encouraged by its kings in the worship of the true God, continually and increasingly fell into idolatry.

But there always was a believing remnant within the nation. It is this believing remnant, out of all the descendants of Abraham, who are his spiritual descendants.

But there is yet another biblical perspective here that takes us beyond the spiritual salvation of those Jews who truly believe. It is this: that to this believing remnant of Israel are added people from every tribe and nation who believe in the Lord. Although the huge bulk of Abraham’s physical descendants were not and are not people of biblical faith, his spiritual descendants are innumerable. This is accomplished by ‘the Root of Jesse’ [Isaiah 11]. Through him the whole earth becomes filled with the knowledge of God [verse 9]. To him the nations rally [verses 10,12]. And through him the ‘remnant’ of Abraham’s descendants are saved [verses11-16].

This composite [Jew plus non-Jew] nature of the believing people of God, the holy remnant redeemed from all the nations, is stressed in the New Testament:

‘… many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham …in the kingdom of heaven’ [Matthew 8:11].

‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd’ [John 10:16].

‘… the promise comes by faith … to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all’ [Romans 4:16].

‘… those who believe are children of Abraham … those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ [Galatians 3:7,9].

‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ [Galatians 3:29].

‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in he promise in Christ Jesus’ [Ephesians 3:6].

Isaiah also called the saved remnant ‘the ransomed (or redeemed) of the LORD’. At an immediate, micro, physical level these prophecies refer to the return of Jews to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. But at the long term, macro, spiritual, level they refer to the salvation of all who return to the living God by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Not only believing Jews, but believers from every tribe and nation and people and language, are included in the triumphant joy of these prophecies:

‘The ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away’ [Isaiah 51:11].

‘The LORD has made this proclamation to the ends of the earth:
“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
‘See, your Saviour comes!
See, his reward is with him.’”
They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD …’ [Isaiah 62:11,12].

And what are they singing, this holy people, this remnant saved by the LORD? They are singing the new song described by Isaiah as the right response to the saving work of the Suffering Servant [Isaiah 42:10].  They are singing the song of the redeemed. They are singing the song of the Lamb. [Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014