6.45 Isaiah -- the Remnant
Isaiah is clear: not everyone (in Israel or the world) will be delivered. The theme of a remnant is announced early in the book: God has already stripped Jerusalem, leaving her flimsy and unprotected; only the "survivors" distinguish her from Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa 1:8-9). Again, the Lord announces that Isaiah will prophesy until everyone has been sent away -- a tenth will remain (but it will also be laid waste), with only the "holy seed" remaining like a stump (Isa 6:12-13).
This remnant will be gathered "from the ends of the earth" under divine protection:
"See, I will beckon to the Gentiles,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms and carry
your daughters on their shoulders" (Isa 49:22).
See also Isa 43:5-7 and Isa 49:8-25. These passages are full of joy, and show the Lord’s great love for His people. Yet "ONLY a remnant will return" (Isa 10:22). Ultimately, the remnant seems to be composed both of a shattered community left in Jerusalem, needing comfort, and of their lost children brought back from Exile.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins (Isa 40:1-2).
Coupled with this idea of a remnant is that of righteousness. God’s eye is towards and His hand is upon the obedient. He makes a distinction between the idolaters (inside and outside Israel) and the faithful. The righteous are not always spared, sometimes they are taken in death -- but they are not ultimately lost from the purpose or care of God.
no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil (Isa 57:1).
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it (Isa 35:8).
We have seen this same theme of a righteous remnant throughout the early books of the Bible -- how God selected only one man or family in a generation to work through (Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses). These people then became the progenitors or nucleus of a community of people devoted to the Lord and His ways. They were surrounded by hostile outsiders who kept trying to pervert or destroy the people of God. In Isaiah, this same concept was retained, however the presence of non-Israelites in the holy remnant is specifically mentioned:
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to serve him,
to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant --
these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them
joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all
nations" (Isa 56:6-7).
Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations (Isa 62:10).
Thus Isaiah remained faithful to prior revelation, while at the same time liberalizing the membership requirements of God's people.