15 September 2011

rethinking remanant

In my ongoing quest to uncover the nuances of Second Temple Judaism I am reading through Joseph Blenkinsopp, Judaism: The First Phase (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).  He raises a point in the early part of the book (pp. 36-37) which I found of particular interest and worth a short rabbit trail.

"In the prophetic writings 'the remnant' is the traditional way of referring to those who survive a catastrophic disaster" (36).

Recently I heard someone ponder if the modern church is in a similar situation of ancient Israel, waiting for God to raise up a remnant of true believers from within the larger community.  By this he meant to say that, for both ancient Israel and modern Christianity, there are far more people who say they are people of God (believers) than actually are in their life and practice.  First, there is very little gained in identifying those committed from casual observers, for every religious community that will ever be identified will find this to be true.  But, secondly, even with such statement serving to identify a particular socio-religious trend in our current Christianity, are we so certain about the self-identification of the remnant?

Blenkinsopp's statement is certainly true, the prophetic writings which speak about a remnant do so in the context of horrific events and tragic circumstances.  He cites Amos 3:12, "This is what the LORD says: 'As a shepherd rescues from the lion's mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites living in Samaria be rescued, with only the head of a bed and a piece of fabric from a couch."  Certainly, those who are in need of rescue will readily accept the promise of salvation.  But have we adequately understood the implications of the imagery that the majority of the sheep (Israel) has been devoured by the treacherous lion before only a few pieces could be salvaged?

If we are so quickly applying the remnant idea to modern evangelicalism, then most likely our modern interpretations of the remnant are failing.  For we are a people who sacrifice little, who suffer little, and who have very little opposition to our faith (other than a bit of comic ridicule).  Hopes of the identification of a modern remnant from within the church are the expressions of the need for a vibrant faith to once again emerge in our evangelicalism.  And that's not bad either, except that even then we discover that very few are willing to do what it necessary to see it happen.

All of this is to remind ourselves (yet once again) that, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

Further in Blenkinsopp's argument on this point is the identification of those who claim to be the Israel with all of the fulfillment of divine promise and privilege is now being claimed by one particular group over another within Israel.  Those who are interested in receiving the promised blessing from God must also be willing to endure the life he has called us to lead.

If we are to think that the church stands in line to inherit the covenant blessings, then speaking of a remnant might just be the right direction . . . but only in the context of the suffering that must come before the salvation.  And here is where so many who desire restoration are unwilling - unwilling to be destroyed in themselves to the point where they can be rescued by their God.

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