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The Remnant of the Lord and the Definition of Sin Essay

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The concept of sin is a vital concept that needs to be defined by every Christian denomination. Each individual has to form his or her own understanding of sin, and how it affects their relationship to God. Whether a person believes that sin has power over man’s future destiny or not, will affect their understanding of God.

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Every Christian denomination needs to establish a definition of what it is and how it relates to man’s understanding of God. Each denomination defines their own concept of sin. This locates an individual church within a spectrum of Christian denominations. Prophet Isaiah defines the nature of sin and explains how long the punishment for it lasts (Isa 10: 21-23). This excerpt of Isaiah is a turning point in displaying how salvation is portrayed and interpreted in the Bible. What was fascinating to me as I was studying these verses in different biblical translations was the use and the context in which the word “remnant” was placed. Although many translators agree (namely, the translators for the King James, New Living Translation, and New International Versions) that the word shĕ\’ar be translated as “remnant”, the varieties of meanings of word definitions point to many possible interpretations of the passage and who it refers to, through other elements of the sentence.


It is widely accepted among translators that the term ‘remnant’ refers to a people who have sinned against God (through the breaking of the ten commandments or the covenants) that also have decided to turn from those ways. Among the KJV, NLT and NIV there is disagreement about who the remnant is, caused by the interpretations of the articles ‘a’ and ‘the’ (meaning, a generalization or a statement directed towards one people, the people of Israel).

Among the biblical translations of the passage in Isaiah 10:21 there are three main differences that impact the meaning of this sentence, namely the use of the words ‘even,’ ‘a’ and ‘the’, words that were not present in the original in Hebrew but rather editorial add-ins. The Hebrew language does not present the use of articles such as ‘a,’ ‘an’ or ‘the’ or prepositions such as ‘even.’ Because translators need to add those articles and prepositions in order for the translations to be grammatically correct, it creates a possible deviation from its original meaning, giving unique spins to biblical texts. In order for us to be able to discuss the different spins that each translation offers, let us study them separately.

Firstly, the add-in word ‘even’ presented in the KJV acts as an inclusive agent. By using the word ‘even’ the editor of this translation wanted the readers of this translation to perceive this sentence as a rule for all mankind. The passage in the KJV reads: “The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Isa 10:21). The use of the wording “shall …, even the remnant” induces the reader to think that this action that will happen in the future as the result of a process of self-examination, an individual act that will uplift the elect that is not restrained to the people of Israel. The author of the commentary states that “the catastrophe is understood to be an act of divine judgment, the survival of a viable remnant is, correspondingly, an act of divine mercy” to those that understand the purpose of the trial, or the process of exile, and yet can lift their understanding. This interpretation would explain the nature of word shĕ\’ar present in the text.
Secondly, the add-in words ‘a’ and ‘the’ presented in NIV and NLT act as exclusive agents. The NIV and NLT read consecutively, “A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isa 10:21 NIV); and, “A remnant will return; yes, the remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isa 10:21 NLT). By using the indefinite article ‘a’ and definite article ‘the’ the authors of these translations give the meaning to the reader that the passage might be referring directly (and exclusively) to the people of Israel who will return to God.
Thirdly, while in both citations there is the idea that “the remnant of the Lord will return” (Isa 10:21 KJV) (emphasis added) the NLT says that the whole of Israel will be saved while the NIV version proposes something different. In that version the author proposes that “a remnant of Jacob will return” (NIV) (emphasis added) meaning that it does not apply to all but to the “rest of the population” that stayed with YHWH.

Word Study

I have chosen ‘remnant’ for my word study. The word shĕ\’ar, translated as ‘remnant’ in the King James translation, is mention 26 times in the whole Hebrew Bible and of those times, 11 are found in the book of Isaiah alone. In other verses, besides being translated as ‘remnant’ (11 times,) the word shĕ\’ar was also translated as ‘rest’ (10 times), ‘residue’ (4 times), and ‘other’ (1 time) in other portions of the Bible inticing possible translations of the word.

In my opinion, the word residue better expresses the meaning of this passage. Residue implies two things, firstly, that the subject in case passed through a process of refinement that created as a by-product a residue, and, secondly, the process that purified the subject also created a portion that was not fully purified or is still in the process of purification.

Literary Context

Isaiah 10:21 is the culmination of the message contained in chapters 7—10. The author describes YHWH’s anger with the Assyrian people that plan to conquer and destroy the southern kingdom. In later chapters (11 and 12) the author of Isaiah states that YHWH’s people will be glorious and save all nations, being a head above all.

Isaiah of Jerusalem, the author of this chapter, wants to leave it plain that the people of Judah are the sent from YHWH. All the destruction that Isaiah states in 7:17 will not be in vain but are for a purpose. The people of Judah are going to serve as a role model for other nations in servitude of YHWH. By calling Judah’s inhabitants the “remnant” in Isaiah 10:21 (KJV) the author is justifying the coming destruction phrased in Isaiah 7:17.

Chapter 10 is a turning point in Isaiah’s prophetic accusations of wrongdoing in Judah and his oracles of judgment against foreign nations. In the book Exploring the Bible, Harris explains that Isaiah describes that the opposite poles of destruction and salvation set forth in liturgical blocks are not contradictory but are rather the setting forth of two possible paths that are leading to reformation and the coming of Zion. The strategic placement of Isaiah 10:21 allows the readers to understand the intention of the author which permits us to contrast the suffering of the people of Israel in the hands of bad rulers and Israel’s upcoming exile.

Understanding the literary context of this passage and its link to Isaiah chapter 7:17 is fundamental in explaining Isaiah’s judgment of the neighboring nations, especially Assyria which he condemns. In order for readers to be able to discuss its contemporary relevance it is important to understand that the Lord had a plan for the people of Judah as it was expressed in 7:4, with the saying “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah” (Isa 7:4 KJV).

Social and Historical Context

It was in a scenario of war and high tensions that this passage was written. By the time that this passage was written Judah was warring against Assyria. The prophet knew that the destiny of the people of Judah was to go into exile. This period is exemplifying the purging and cleansing of the sins which Isaiah previously condemned in Jerusalem. Being conquered by Assyria came with social and religious consequences as well. Assyria adored many different deities. Part of Isaiah’s long rhetoric against the condemnable ways of Judah in chapter 5 of his book includes many paths of disbelief in God. The kingdom of Assyria exemplifies all of the wicked ways (worship to other Gods, necromancy, idolatry, and spiritism) forcing a “remnant” (Isa 10:21 KJV) of the people to reevaluate and turn away from their old values.

Theological and Ethical Reading of the Passage

In this passage, God is portrayed as a master who works side-by-side with Israel for the destruction of all that is immoral in His sight. Isaiah of Jerusalem sees God as an entity who has a zeal for all things righteous and who will war against all the people that present themselves as unrighteous, according to His judgment. Later on, in the book of Isaiah, the author confirms his idea of the nature of God. In Isaiah chapters 13—22 the author of the book shares his visions of the destruction of other countries (such as Assyria and Ethiopia) as a consequence of the unrighteous nature of their people’s behavior. In Isaiah 5:5, the author makes an association with the people of God in Judah being the vineyard of the Lord which God will “lay waste” in order to show the people of Israel that they are worthless without God, as Longman states in page 10 of his work.

Ethically, this passage is challenging the readers to give up their ways and follow the high demands of God. By naming the people of Judah the remnant of the Lord the author is putting the heavy task of following God’s commands on the Israelites shoulders. As it is understood by this passage, God depends on his children (the Israelites) to be demonstrated, thus, it is His children’s duties to take on his high demands and standard.

Conclusion and Application

It is striking how important Isaiah thought that the phrase, “the remnant shall return” (10: 21) was. Blenkinsopp informs us in his commentary that Isaiah named his own son, Shear-gas hub, to let the people of Judah know that they are going to return to their land once their sin is purged. Isaiah’s son’s name means in the Hebrew tongue the exact passage of Isaiah 10:21, “the remnant shall return” (KJV) which gives the reader an idea of just how important and true the prophet thought this promise was to be held by the people of Judah.
Several scholars and biblical commentators, discuss the implications of this passage on the people of Judah who went into exile (like the names that were already cited) but they rarely talk about how this passage may be applied or seen today. Through this research, I have come to understand that the remnant might refer to the rest of the people of Israel that haven’t sinned against God by denying His authority and might and by that discarding the possibility of gaining His help.

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