“And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved’” Romans 9:27
In this week’s offering, we’ll head back to the book of Romans for another look at an Old Testament quote cited by the apostle Paul. We’ll consider what many call “remnant theology” as recorded through the prophet Isaiah.
Paul’s citation of Isaiah’s declaration is found in chapter ten of the book of Isaiah, verse twenty-two. We will append verse twenty-three since Paul quotes that as well in making the Spirit’s point concerning the physical nation of Israel in his letter in verse twenty-eight of Romans nine. “For though your people, O Israel, may be 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.” (Isa. 10:22-23) So important was this concept that Isaiah’s own son was named Shear-jashub, which means “a remnant shall return.” The context surrounding these verses to which the apostle alludes, as always, is important in gaining understanding of the concepts being communicated for the church’s edification.
Isaiah, as a prophet in Judah, was moved to speak in reference to the gathering storm of the impending Syro-Ephraimitic invasion of Judah. The goal of this unholy alliance of Syria and Ephraim (Israel) was to displace King Ahaz (and the house of David) and replace it with a vassal king under their control in order to counter the growing strength and aggression of the Assyrian empire. Chapters seven through twelve deal with that threat, while the Spirit of God uses Isaiah to delve into “issues”. These include conspiracies of men rebuffed by the Lord, widespread idolatry, and rejecting God in favor of trusting men through political solutions. The consequences of those actions (judgment) are contrasted by the saving and comforting of the faithful remnant through the prophesied coming of Messiah and His kingdom.
Paul’s quote of Isaiah is from the Septuagint translation and reads slightly different. Instead of reading a remnant shall return, it’s rendered “shall be saved”. Yet, this does not conflict with remnant theology as a whole as taught in the Old Testament. Noah and His family were the faithful remnant among mankind during the flood. Moses prophesied of the faithful remnant to return after being scattered among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31). The prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, Amos, who predated Isaiah, spoke of how God would “be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:15b)
In each hopeful utterance concerning the faithful remnant, there is the clear principle that the great majority of the rebellious physical seed of Abraham would be cast off, cut off and rejected from being a part of the people of God. Precedent of Old Testament history coupled with the prophetic passages confirmed this for the Jews. That’s why we see John the Immerser telling the Pharisees and Sadducees, “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves,’ We have Abraham for our father’” (Matt 3:8-9a) It would be the faithful who repented, forsook physical, political solutions, and heeded God’s will in Christ that would return to God and be saved.
Just as Isaiah spoke of a speedy and complete destruction to come throughout the land among the unrepentant Jews of his time, so the Spirit moved Paul to note that once more, the Lord would in righteousness accomplish the feat with the Jews of his time who had rejected the Messiah. God’s judgment would be consistent with prophecy and the written record in His intention to cast off the overwhelming majority of the Jews one final time. Why? They choose to stay in their spiritual captivity and reject the Christ. The faithful remnant would be those that the Lord would use as a part of His plan in sending the message of salvation into the world. As we, the church, take the message into the world, understand that only a very small remnant in the context of the whole world, by their own choosing, will be saved. As to the urgency, remember the final complete destruction of the world is decreed. Some of the remnant have not yet returned. Go, Shear-jashub!