The concept of the remnant is found throughout the Bible and has various aspects and significances. Sometimes the words noted above (and other similar terms) are placed in combinations which have the effect of intensifying or giving a special thrust to the idea.
Profane or natural use.
The concept of the remnant as it is applied in a theological way is of prime interest. A category of this kind can be approximate at best, esp. when it is rerembered that the political destiny of the people of Israel is so clearly a theological matter. The judgment of God upon a remnant, or, contrariwise, the manifestation of grace to them, shows how history and theology are intertwined.
An example of a pertinent text is Micah 5:3 which states: “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest (remnant) of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel.” God will give up His people into the hands of their enemies (Romans?) until Christ shall be born of Israel (or Mary); then all His scattered brethren shall return and be joined in one body. Hutcheson understands the remnant here to be elect Gentiles, then unconverted, who are brethren in respect to His eternal love in election, God’s purpose being to make them brethren by conversion. These are conjoined with Jews in one spiritual body. Pusey believes that the withdrawal of God’s protection spoken of here refers to the time of the Exile. The context, however, would seem to require what was then a future event.
That there is a great emphasis placed upon the significance of a true spiritual relationship in the NT cannot be denied. He who does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to Christ (Matt 12:50), and Christ is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb 2:11). The promise is to those who are called of God (Acts 2:39). Pusey believes that both Jews and Gentiles who respond to the Gospel are in the remnant.
Feinberg sees in this passage a reference to the literal return of the Jews who have been scattered by the judgment of God, but Delitzsch feels that the returning spoken of is of a spiritual kind, i.e., returning to God in conversion. That the Bible teaches a literal return to Pal. (not necessarily to be identified with contemporary Zionist movement), seems clearly taught by such passages as Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Micah 5:7, 8.
Romans 9:27-29 is a crucial passage in the theology of the remnant. It states that though the number of the sons of Israel is vast, yet only a remnant of them will be saved. This is an obvious reference to the Abrahamic promise of numerous seed. Yet from this vast number only a fraction would be redeemed. In this passage Paul is discussing the election of persons to salvation, these persons were chosen of God to be His spiritual children. The attempt is being made to discourage the Jews from relying upon a carnal interpretation of the promise to Abraham. Natural descent from the great patriarch guaranteed nothing in terms of a spiritual inheritance. God never said that being a Jew according to the flesh was enough. It was wrong for Israel to equate herself with the remnant. It is noteworthy that the remnant will include Gentiles (Rom 9:24, 25). God’s promises are to the people of faith.
Romans 11:4, 5 speaks of a remnant chosen by grace. The passage refers to the experience of the prophet Elijah who was reminded in the time of discouragement that there were many in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The point is that these faithful ones are parallel to a remnant of grace in the present time. Paul stresses not only the number of the faithful, but even more the fact that God has chosen them for Himself (Murray). Soverereign election is clearly involved. While Israel was in an apostate condition, yet this remnant remained faithful, and so must all. The principal idea in all of this is to establish clearly the fact that God has not cast away His people. God’s election is not based on moral attainment but on the good pleasure of God. Haldane says: “It was an unconditional choice, resulting from the sovereign free favor of God.” The great emphasis upon the mercy of God must be maintained in all discussions of the remnant.
R. Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, IV, 490-492, 523-526; G. Hutcheson, Exposition of the Minor Prophets, 136-138; F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (1877) I, 272-274; E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (1885) II, 72, 73; F. Hamilton, The Epistle to the Romans (1958) 166, 167, 184-186; J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (1965) II, 39-41, 68-70.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)