When I was 14 my parents took my brother and I on a family holiday. Not just us, but my mum’s brother, his wife and kids were coming too. I was so happy. They were my favourite cousins, and we were going away for a week to Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park in western Victoria. We had rented a holiday house and there was a paddock right next to it full of cows.
Even the fact that my brother and I had to share a bed couldn’t dampen my excitement. His smelly feet in my face were a small price to pay for the fun. And it was fun! It was the 1980s and it was glorious. Foggy mornings gave way to sunny mountain reaches full of koalas and birdsong. To celebrate our holiday, the final night’s meal was a grand BBQ with plenty of snags and rissoles for all. We cooked so much food that there were leftovers safely tucked away in the fridge for whoever was lucky enough to get them in the morning.
The leftovers have always been my favourite. It’s the food that’s judged to be unworthy of the main meal plate, but when left in the fridge overnight it takes on an extra something that makes it more delicious than the original serve. Curry flavours deepen, soups grow richer and rissoles more savoury.
Which explains why there was high drama in the morning when I woke up. Someone had gotten up in the middle of the night and sneakily ate the last of the leftovers. They were all gone!
Who could’ve eaten the leftovers? No-one would confess to it; my dad and uncle were two chief suspects but they both flatly denied it. We all rolled our eyes and packed up for the trip home.
Turns out I have something in common with God, because it turns out that God likes the leftovers too. There’s nothing worse than being the last one to be chosen for a group activity. We used to choose teams at school for our lunchtime games. The two most popular kids would be the captains, of course, and they would pick their teams one by one from the nervously assembled kids before them. The worst fate possible was to be the last chosen on the team, or the odd one out once the teams were even. The Bible tells us that God really likes the “left alone” kid. He has a special spot in His heart for the ones who are the leftovers. These “leftovers” are known as the remnant.
Does God really choose only a few people? Some define remnant as it is discussed in the bible as being a very specific group of believers, or specific subset of Christianity who they refer to as ‘the remnant church’. That sounds a bit biased of Him doesn’t it? That is not what the remnant means. The remnant are the people who have chosen God in return, and keep choosing God, and when things get hard still choose God, and then keep choosing God over and over again, even when it looks like the craziest decision imaginable. The remnant are the ones who no-one else chose for the games, but they are determined to be on God’s team. God wants everyone in the world to join Him of course (John 3:16), but there are people who stick with God and choose Him even when others have given up.
Malachi 3:16 says God has a list of those people and they are the ones who respect God and who honour His name. They are the people who do what God says and believe in Jesus and what He says (Revelation 12:17). God says He will bless the remnant and through them will bless the whole world. (Zechariah 8:12, 13). They will try to be a blessing to those around them by sharing the message about God but won’t be thanked for it (Revelation 14:6-12). In fact, the remnant are not usually very popular with other people. But they are God’s favourites!
You might expect God to choose the strongest and best humanity has to offer, but often He chooses people who we might think are strange to choose. He sees qualities that are inside. He chose a young peasant girl to bear Jesus as her son rather than choosing a princess. He chose Paul, someone who persecuted Christians, to become one of His greatest missionaries. He has “chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty”
(1 Corinthians 1:26,27).
In choosing people, God makes a promise to them. He assures them when they go through hard times, He will reach out to save them and return them to prosperity (Isaiah 11:11). We can see this happen several times in the Bible. God’s people are saved from Egypt and taken to Canaan. God’s people are brought out of captivity in Babylon and returned to Israel where they prosper.
Most of us don’t like to admit when we need help. God’s promises to the remnant tell me that even though I might feel lost, even though I might be struggling, He will not forget me and will reach out to save me.
We see an amazing example of this in history. God intervened in 700BC when the Assyrian king Sennacherib came to Jerusalem after conquering most of Israel and Judah. Hezekiah, the incumbent king of Judah, was afraid. There was a fearsome army camped outside the walls. Hezekiah had a choice. The enemy commander was calling out for their surrender, but Isaiah, a prophet from God, had told Hezekiah not to fear, that God was on his side (2 Kings 19:6). In the face of imminent slaughter, Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance (2 Kings 19:19). The odds seemed insurmountable. The Bible tells us that God heard his prayer and an angel went out that night and defeated the entire army single-handedly. It was a miraculous intervention that only God could provide. Interestingly, the Clay Prism of Sennacherib supports this stating, “as for Hezekiah, he did not submit to my yoke”. The only way one city could have withstood the might of Assyria was with divine intervention!
While we might not have Assyria camped on our doorstep, the world has seen enough trouble lately to remind everyone that we all need help sometimes. In the same way that Hezekiah was told not to fear, God tells us many times not to fear as well. That’s one of the identifiers of the remnant, of the leftovers. They are the ones who trust and listen to God when things are difficult. Isaiah 41:10 is one of my favourite promises like that. It says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That’s important because the Bible talks about a time when it will be tempting to give up on God. Matthew 24:10 says “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.” I see a lot of that hate in the world today.
The happy ending
The Bible says that in the same way God has kept His promise to the remnant in the past, He will also keep His promise to that remnant now and will also come and bring them back to safety and prosperity in the future. He will gather them together in His final kingdom and promises that there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning and no more pain because that has all been finished (Revelation 21:4). The best part is that He is looking for those that others have overlooked. The leftovers.
I want to be one of those leftovers! Which reminds me of that holiday home in the Grampians National Park. It’s been more than three decades, but to this day no-one knows who took the leftovers from the fridge on that trip to Halls Gap. My father and uncle still deny all knowledge of who took it. But I know one thing, I bet those leftovers were delicious!
Justin Bone supports and trains pastors and congregations around Victoria for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is passionate about helping people understand the Bible better.