Jeremiah 40:1-41:15 reveals who the true remnant is.
A remnant is a small remaining group of people who believe their group makes up the minority of true believers and that nearly everyone else is against them. Since almost everyone thinks of themselves as belonging to the remnant, identifying the true remnant can be difficult.
However, during Israel’s captivity, the remnant wasn’t so hard to identify, at least from our vantage point today. Then, the remnant was made up of Jews who had been left behind because they hadn’t been deemed worthy enough to take to Babylon. Those left behind had little, if any, possessions. They were the leftovers of society, and the only thing they had going for them was their humility.
And I think humility is the key. Who is the remnant today? Scripture identifies them as those who are humble. They’re the poor in spirit, but they are also the ones who God will eventually be lifted up.
So what does the Bible say about “Remnant Theology”? Let’s find out.
God Will Always Preserve a Remnant
Chapter 40 of Jeremiah tells us that God was punishing Israel for their sin, which was no secret. Everyone seemed to know what God was doing, including the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 40:2–3 CSB
The captain of the guards took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God decreed this disaster on this place, and the Lord has fulfilled it. He has done just what he decreed. Because you people have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed him, this thing has happened.
So God was punishing Israel for their sin, but King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that Jeremiah not be harmed (Jer 39:13-14). Instead, Jeremiah was sent home to his people. But on his way home, some Babylonians captured him, who either didn’t know who he was or what King Nebuchadnezzar had decreed (Jer 40:1; 4-5).
So Jeremiah was captured and put in chains. But eventually, the captain of the guard found Jeremiah and released him to Gedaliah, the Jew who had been put in charge of the remnant by the king of Babylon (Jer 40:7-8).
And under Gedaliah’s leadership, the remnant was blessed.
Jeremiah 40:11–12 CSB
When all the Judeans in Moab and among the Ammonites and in Edom and in all the other lands also heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, over them, they all returned from all the places where they had been banished and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and harvested a great amount of wine and summer fruit.
The point is that God preserved his people and even made it possible for them to thrive. Every time he punished people, he always preserved a remnant, and many scriptures in the Bible prove this. From the time of Noah, when God saved eight people, to the passage we read today, to the preservation of the church, God has always had a relatively small, humble group of people that he’s called his own (Ezra 9:8-15 Isa 10:22; Micah 2:12; 2 Chr 36:20; 1 Peter 3:20; Rom 11:2-4; Acts 15:17).
So, that’s the first thing. The second is...
God Will Always Provide for His Remnant
God provided for Jeremiah and the remnant. When the captain of the guard sent Jeremiah to Gedaliah, he sent him with gifts and blessings. Jeremiah 40:5 says, “So the captain of the guards gave him a ration and a gift and released him.” And God provided for the rest of the remnant, too.
Jeremiah 40:9–10 CSB
Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, swore an oath to them and their men, assuring them, “Don’t be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well for you…gather wine, summer fruit, and oil, place them in your storage jars, and live in the cities you have captured.”
This was good news for the remnant because they had lost everything. Their homes and fields had all been destroyed, so God gave them an abundant harvest and met all their needs.
The humble remnant prospered because God provided for them, just as he always does.
God Will Always Keep His Promises to the Remnant
The book of Jeremiah contains many promises for the remnant. For example:
Jeremiah 21:9 “Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and plague, but whoever goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live and will retain his life like the spoils of war.”
Jer 23:3 “I will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands where I have banished them, and I will return them to their grazing land. They will become fruitful and numerous.”
Jer 31:2 “This is what the Lord says: The people who survived the sword [will find] favor and rest in the wilderness.”
Jeremiah 31:7-8 “For this is what the Lord says: Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations! Proclaim, praise, and say, “Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel!” Watch! I am going to bring them from the northern land. I will gather them from remote regions of the earth— the blind and the lame will be with them, along with those who are pregnant and those about to give birth. They will return here as a great assembly!”
God kept all these promises and more. He kept his promises then and he’ll continue to keep them to his church today.
So remnant theology says:
God will always preserve a remnant.
God will always provide for his remnant.
God will always keep his promises to his remnant.
Now let’s look at the opposition to God’s remnant. If we are part of the true remnant we can expect opposition.
Ishmael’s Betrayal of the Remnant
In verses 13-14, Gedaliah was warned of Ishmael’s betrayal.
Jeremiah 40:13–14 CSB
Meanwhile, Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies in the countryside came to Gedaliah at Mizpah and warned him, “Don’t you realize that Baalis, king of the Ammonites, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to kill you?” But Gedaliah son of Ahikam would not believe them.
Trouble was brewing, but Gedaliah didn’t believe it. Maybe Gedaliah was naive or just wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, but the result was inaction. Johanan offered to kill Ishmael preemptively, but Gedaliah said, “no” (Jer 40:14-16).
So, sadly, a few verses later, we read that Gedaliah was assassinated instead by Ishmael while they ate a meal together (Jer 41:1-2).
Ishmael took advantage of Gedaliah’s hospitality and gentleness and killed him for it, which was shocking, and it makes me angry to think about it. But it gets worse. Before the word of Gedaliah’s death had a chance to spread, Ishmael killed seventy more men on their way to worship at the temple, took the rest of the remnant hostage, and then turned them all over to the Ammonites who he was in league with (Jer 41:4-10).
What Ishmael did was pure evil. Ishmael murdered Gedaliah while he was showing hospitality and then murdered 70 more while they were on their way to worship.
But why did Ishmael do all of these horrible things? Jeremiah 41:1 gives us a hint:
Jeremiah 41:1 CSB
In the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family...
Ishmael was royalty from the line of David. So apparently, when he saw all of the good things happening with Gedaliah as a leader, he got jealous and thought he should be leading the people!
Unlike King David with Saul, Ishmael didn’t wait for God to put him on the throne; he took matters into his own hands and tried to set himself up as king. He didn’t care about the people; he only cared about being in charge at any cost.
A Remnant Belonging to Christ
There are two ways that an Old Testament example can point to Christ: positively or negatively. For example, King David positively points to Christ’s humility by waiting for God’s timing with king Saul.
But Ishmael also points to Christ by way of contrast. Unlike Ishmael, Jesus didn’t try to steal the throne. Instead, he waited patiently for his father to work things out. Jesus didn’t kill people to get what was rightfully his. Instead, he came into Jerusalem humbly, riding on a donkey.
Ishmael forced his way to the throne by killing Gedaliah and using violence to get his way. But this isn’t Jesus’ way. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross. It’s the humble way and the way his remnant is supposed to follow.
Violent, militant ways aren’t Christ’s ways. They are the way of Ishmael. Christ’s way is the way of humility and grace, not the way of power grabbing and forcibly controlling those not in power.
There will always be those who oppose the remnant’s humble way of peace, but we can be confident that God will always preserve his people. He will always preserve, protect, and keep his promises.
In Jeremiah’s day, God used a man named Johanan to protect his people.
Jeremiah 41:11–12 CSB
When Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight with Ishmael son of Nethaniah. They found him by the great pool in Gibeon.
After they found him, they won the battle and forced Ishmael to flee back to the Ammonites. So the point is that we don’t need to take matters into our own hands and become the bully or aggressor. Instead, we must stay humble and Christlike and let God fight our battles in his timing and way of choosing.
Who Are the Remnant?
So, who are the remnant? They are those who are humble and often rejected by society. They are the ones trusting in Christ, and because they recognize their powerlessness, they must trust in him to preserve and provide for them.
So, be encouraged because, just as God has done in the past, he will continue to preserve, provide, and keep his promises given to his people. Those he’s chosen by grace and who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will receive the eternal blessings of God.