So why does God seem to prefer to work through a remnant? There are various reasons for this. One is simply to show that it is God, and not mere human strength or power or might that gains the victory. As Zechariah 4:6 famously says, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Related to this is the fact that this keeps us humble and dependent upon God – and God gets the glory in this way, as he should. As the Lord said to Gideon in Jud. 7:2: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’.”
A truth found in Scripture and in history is that God normally seems to work through a remnant. He does not go with the crowds or with the masses, but with a small, committed group of his followers. While I have discussed this at various times over the years, I have not actually penned an entire piece on this. So here it is.
The biblical examples of this are of course numerous. Let me highlight just some of them as they appear in Scripture. One clear example is that of Noah and his family. As we read in Genesis 6, all up there were only eight righteous people left on the earth, and God judged the rest with the flood.
In Genesis 18:16-33 we have the famous story of how Abraham interceded for Sodom. He pleaded to God to save the city if 50 righteous souls could be found. He then asked, what if there are only 45? Or 40, or 30, or just 20 righteous – will God then spare the city? We finally read this in verse 32: “Then he said, ‘Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it’.”
The story of Gideon in Judges 7:1-6 is another classic example of this concept of the remnant. Before Gideon goes into battle the Lord has him whittle down the size of his army – radically. First the original 32,000 men are pared down to 10,000, and then they are pared down to just 300 men – they are the ones who will take on Midian.
One interesting incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 22:1-2. There we read about David in his early days, when he is still being hounded by Saul. The passage says this: “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.”
These are the ones David surrounded himself with. They were not quite the sort that the world’s leaders would have chosen. But they were those who went on to do mighty things for God. We read about the amazing exploits of “David’s mighty men” later on in 2 Samuel 23-24 and 1 Chronicles 11-12. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/29/david%e2%80%99s-mighty-men-godly-discontentment/
Then we have the well-known episode as found in 1 Kings 19. The prophet Elijah is greatly discouraged and thinks he is all alone, so God has to tell him that there are 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. While that is a big number, out of all the Israelites, this was just a remnant.
In 2 Chronicles 18 we read about 400 false prophets who were quite happy to prophesy victory, but only one true prophet – Micaiah – who said that defeat would happen. As we read in verses 12-13: “And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the Lord lives, what my God says, that I will speak’.”
The prophets often speak of these truths. For example, we read this in Jeremiah 5:1 “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”
In Ezekiel 22:29-30 we read these sad words: “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”