The Remnant: A Biblical Tale

Possibly the earliest and most significant story about the remnant is Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-9). The image of God commissioning an Ark to save a small group of faithful, though imperfect, people, has become a symbol of the church and salvation. Christians have said for a long time that the church is the Ark of Salvation. Humanity is flooded with rebellion, so God prepares to flood the world with judgement. But a remnant is picked, and an Ark is built to save the people of God. In Genesis it was one family. Now it is everyone who belongs to the family of God. Even given the expanse of time between the Ark and the Church, the warp and woof of the story holds – rebellion, judgement, remnant, rebuilding.

Noah’s story begins with sexual wickedness. In one of the more fascinating stories in Genesis, we are told that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (6:2). As incredible as it sounds, this means that created spiritual beings broke from their place under God, were attracted by human women, and began to have children. The children, half-human and half-demon, became known as the Nephilim. They were the literal giants in the land.

This demonic state of affairs was combined with widespread, unrelenting wickedness. The text says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). It is stunning to imagine a world in which God, who knows the thoughts and intents of every human heart, saw only wickedness. It was time to start anew.

God’s solution to the need to judge wickedness while showing mercy on his faithful people is what makes the story of Noah. If God simply wiped out all of humanity, which is the right of a just and holy God, everything before the flood would have been lost, and God would have started from scratch. Again. But God was up to something else altogether. God had a plan of redemption in place. Humanity fell into sin, the Adam and Eve story, we continued in our sin, the Nephilim story, then God showed mercy through judgement, the Noah story. God’s chosen remnant lived in a wicked world, suffered through their judgement by being put into the Ark during the flood, but were the people God prepared and preserved for salvation.

Noah was a righteous man who was not spared the judgement of the world’s sin, but who was saved from God’s wrath on sin. Twice in the Genesis account and twice the New Testament Noah is described as righteous (Genesis 6:9; 7:1; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5). In Hebrews, Noah is God’s righteous man, and through his salvation he stands as a symbol of the condemnation of the wicked world around him. Noah’s faith kept him near to his God, and being saved through judgement, he became the spiritual father of all those who live in righteousness. How could it be otherwise? If the flood was universal, Noah and his family were all that was left, so his righteousness, as faulty as it was, became the example for everyone. Second Peter says something very similar. Noah was “a herald of righteousness” preserved by God.

God saves his remnant and uses them to establish righteousness in the wake of his judgement on sin.

If we think about the remnant being a small, left-over piece of the whole, it is hard to imagine a remnant smaller than one family in the world. It sparks the imagination to think about what life was like for a family living and trading with others, all of whom have given themselves over to sin and rebellion. There was no public prestige or acclaim that would come from Noah and his family faithfully enduring. There was only their own faithfulness, the conviction that their belief in God was right and true, and what must have been the sheer doggedness to remain faithful.

God saves his remnant and uses them to establish righteousness in the wake of his judgement on sin.

The remnant faces the constant pressure to conform to the world around them. In our culture, it is increasingly the case that the world’s accolades are reserved for those who do not follow a path faithful to Christ. Whatever neutral ground existed in the public square continues to shrink, and if the Christian wants to keep on good terms with the values of the culture around us, they will feel the sharp pain of choosing between Christ and the world. This does not mean we can cease to be salt and light, in fact that door may be more open in the Western world than it has been since the first centuries of the early church. But it does mean we need to be clear in our choices. The early church grew in large part because of the clear differences between Christians and pagans. It may be so again.

The Ark is a warning to the world, and it is an oddity to everyone. Those building the Ark know there is nothing else like it. We know we were told to build it, and we know the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is empowering the work. But the church is not like anything else. Is that OK with us? Do we love our salvation and Savior enough to be openly associated with the Ark, the church? Are we ready to build it the way our God told us to without admixture from the world that hates it? And given the call we have from Christ, are we ready to invite others to join us instead of accepting their invitation to become like them?

Judgement and salvation are in the balance.

Read other posts on the Remnant.

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