And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV
All mankind is deserving of God’s righteous judgment. From His holy perspective, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). All are guilty of rebellion against Him and of breaking His holy commands. At no point in the history of mankind has there lived a man or woman who deserved God’s mercy or grace. No one has ever been able to live up to His righteous standards or fulfill His laws perfectly and completely. Abraham was not even a worshiper of God when he was called by God. Noah, while a good man who knew and worshiped God, was far from sinless. And yet God chose to spare him. Moses was a murderer, but God, in His sovereign will, chose Moses to deliver His people from captivity. And the very people Moses was chosen to set free from their captivity had long ago abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and were guilty of worshiping the gods of Egypt. But God chose to deliver them anyway. All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, we see God choosing to bless some and reject others. He rejected Saul as king of Israel because of his disobedience. He chose David and anointed him to be Saul’s replacement. David, while a man after God’s own heart, was far from perfect. He would end up allowing his passions to lead him to commit adultery, resulting in an illegitimate pregnancy and his attempt to cover it up resulting in the murder of the woman’s husband. But God graciously forgave David and continued to bless his reign.
The nation of Israel would prove to be unfaithful to God over and over again. Their disobedience and that of their king, Solomon, the son of David, would result in the split of the kingdom. Their continued rebellion would force God to send the northern nation of Israel into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. Years later, the southern nation of Judah would suffer the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians. God had warned both nations to return to Him. He had sent His prophets to call the people back to Him or face His righteous wrath. They refused and God, in His justice, punished them for their rebellion. And yet, in spite of their sin, God chose to spare a remnant. While the entire nation of Israel had been God’s chosen people, they ended up split in two. The northern tribes would be exiled and never return to the land. The southern tribes would only see a small portion of their descendants return to Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah predicted what would happen.
In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth. – Isaiah 10:20-23 ESV
God had fulfilled His promise to Abraham and had made his descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea. But only a remnant would return. Not all of them would enjoy God’s grace and mercy. The Greek word Paul used is hypoleimma and it means “a remainder, a few.” The Hebrew word used by Isaiah is shĕ’ar and it means “residue, remainder.” Out of all the nation of Israel, only a handful were allowed to return to the land and enjoy God’s restoration of them as His people. Quoting from Isaiah, Paul writes, “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of our children, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah” (Romans 9:29 NLT).
So what is Paul’s point in all of this? That unless God chooses to show mercy on some, none will ever experience it. All of Israel deserved to experience God’s full wrath and destructive powers, just as much as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had. The people of Israel were no less guilty of sin and worthy of God’s wrath than the pagan and immoral people of those two wicked cities. This all goes back to Paul’s attempt to explain that no one, including God’s chosen people, the Jews, was worthy of receiving God’s mercy. God calls and men must respond. When God got ready to send the people of Israel back to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, not everybody chose to return. Many had become comfortable in their new surroundings. They had acclimated themselves to living in Babylon. Only a relative handful returned.
Not all men will be saved. Not everyone will respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through faith in His Son. Compared to the mass of mankind who have ever lived, the number of those who place their faith in Christ will be a remnant, a few. And none of us who enjoy a right relationship with God because of our faith in Christ can ever brag about our position or boast in our righteous standing. Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT). He said the same thing to Timothy. “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9 NLT).
God saved us. We didn’t save ourselves. He chose us. We didn’t choose Him. According to Romans 8:30, He called us, He justified us, and one day He is going to glorify us. We are part of God’s remnant, the redeemed. We didn’t do anything to deserve His grace and mercy. We can’t brag about our position as His children. He adopted us. He made us His sons and daughters. He has declared us His heirs. All as a result of His grace and mercy made possible through the priceless gift of His Son.