The history of a group of God’s people referred to as “the remnant” began around the time of the prophet Isaiah. In his account of Israel’s rebellion, Isaiah declared, “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9). Isaiah went on to talk about the birth of a messianic king, God’s anger against Israel, and the destruction of Assyria (Isaiah 9-10:19). Then he said, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, The Holy One of Israel in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21).
Isaiah sent a message to the king of Judah at the time that Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance from Assyria (2 Kings 19:14-19). Isaiah told king Hezekiah, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennecherib of Assyria I have heard” (2 Kings 19:20). The Hebrew word translated heard, shama means to hear intelligently or to give undivided attention (8085). Another way of interpreting what God said to Hezekiah would be to say, I know what you’re going through. It could be that the remnant that God saved from his destruction of Judah and Jerusalem was a direct result of king Hezekiah’s prayer. Hezekiah was told, “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this” (2 Kings 19:30-31).
According to Ezra, the small remnant that God caused to return to Jerusalem was 42,360 people (Ezra 2:64). Ezra said this was “the whole congregation.” In other words, it was the sum total of the entire population that returned from Babylon: men, women, children, and slaves. My guess is that this was about one-tenth of the population that resided in Jerusalem at the time of their deportation to Babylon. The purpose of their return was to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1:2). In order to establish a resource of building materials, it says in Ezra 2:69, “They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.” Just to give you an idea of what these metals were worth, a pound of silver was the equivalent of five years wages, so the five thousand pounds of silver was the equivalent of a year of wages for 25,000 men. It is very likely that the 25,000 pounds of silver was the previous year’s wages of every man in the congregation, which may have been given to them as a type of severance pay when they left their jobs in Babylon.