Someone long ago planted a group of jonquils in front of my mailbox. It predates my arrival here, which happened eleven years ago. Every spring they pop up with their cheerful faces and strong pronouncement that winter is over and we can turn our faces toward summer. This gift of foresight on someone else’s part is always welcome. For most of the year, that patch of ground is empty and desolate. My neighbor once told me that the entire mailbox was once ringed with jonquils. Now only this one patch remains, and I am grateful.
In reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we encounter something known as “remnant theology.” This describes God’s practice of taking a land, a society, or a whole nation down to almost nothing and then restoring a small percentage back after a period of desolation. Think of Noah’s family after the flood…it was up to them to replenish and repopulate the world when they finally came upon dry land. They were God’s remnant.
In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, we see God preparing Isaiah to speak a word of doom into a hopeless situation. The nation had fallen hard into apostasy, and their impending disaster was upon them. Isaiah was called to preach to a group of people who were too calloused and hard-headed to hear him, and the length of his service would be determined by how long it would take for them to turn with their hearts and seek God’s healing:
Isaiah 6 (Common English Bible)
9 God said, “Go and say to this people:
Listen intently, but don’t understand;
look carefully, but don’t comprehend.
10 Make the minds of this people dull.
Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind,
so they can’t see with their eyes
or hear with their ears,
or understand with their minds,
and turn, and be healed.”
But even in the midst of this proclamation, God offers the hope of a remnant that would provide a holy seed for the rebuilding of Israel.
11 I said, “How long, Lord?”
And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” 12 The Lord will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. 13 Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.
The dichotomy of a God who destroys and a God who restores is striking. His mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and remnant theology teaches us that mercy always prevails, thanks be to God! God always leaves behind a holy seed.
If you are in a season of desolation and judgment, remember Isaiah. In the beginning of this passage, he declares that seeing God seated on the throne surrounded by flying seraphs had rendered him “undone.” Sometimes it takes a holy undoing before we can be restored to what we were are meant to be…holy, cleansed, called, and redeemed.