Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The beautiful root יתר (yatar) yields words with a general meaning of remaining or being a rest (a remainder). HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament submits, "It refers to one portion of a quantity which has been divided. Generally it is the smaller part and sometimes it is the part of least quality".
The concept of remnants is important in the Bible, so important that a discipline called remnant-theology deals exclusively with it. Often a remnant is simply something that remains, like a surplus of donated items (Exodus 36:7) or food (Ruth 2:14). But it may also refer to the years of life one has remaining (Isaiah 38:10), or the survivors of an onslaught (Joshua 12:4).
The special position of the remnant in the Bible becomes clear in Scriptures such as 2 Kings 19:30-31: "And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion survivors. The zeal of YHWH shall perform this".
The existence of a remnant brings about the notion that (a) something can't be exterminated, but (b) that there is more than enough, and that leads to connotation of this verb of to be abundant or rich, or even excellent as an adjective. Hence, a "rich" mouth (verbosity, perhaps?) doesn't become a fool (Proverbs 17:7), and the surplus of one's possessions (that's what remains after one's necessities have been met, and what goes into store rooms or bank accounts) can't be taken to heaven (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
This verb has a few very curious derivatives, namely the masculine noun יתר (yeter), meaning cord or bowstring, and masculine noun מיתר (metar), also meaning cord or string. With these cords, one may tie down a strong man (Samson in Judges 16:7), but also a tabernacle (Exodus 35:18). The wicked may lay an arrow on their string and shoot it at the heart of the righteous (Psalm 11:2), but the righteous have the Lord and his bow to withstand assault (Psalm 21:12). When someone's tent-cord breaks, he nears death (Job 4:21), and when a group's tent-cord breaks, the group will succumb to their enemies (Jeremiah 10:20).
It seems that the most fundamental idea of the Biblical remnant is that a remnant is not simply an anonymous sample of the larger collective it's a remnant of, but rather a designated selection that kept the collective together in the first place. That makes Abraham's plea with God over the possible ten righteous people in Sodom suddenly a lot more logical (Genesis 18:16-33). If there had been ten righteous people in Sodom, they would have kept the city together, or at least had kept it from destruction.
It also sheds some additional light on the enigmatic Pauline verse, "in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17, compare with 2 Kings 19:30-31 cited above). And it certainly indicates in what grave danger the world is, and how possible the events foreseen by rapture theology — which we here at Abarim Publications generally refute — might come to pass.
Other derivatives of our verb are:
- The masculine noun יתר (yeter), meaning rest, remnant (Exodus 23:11, 2 Samuel 10:10). Note that this noun is spelled and pronounced the same as יתר (yeter), meaning cord or bowstring.
- The feminine noun יתרה (yitra), meaning abundance, riches (Isaiah 15:7 and Jeremiah 48:36 only).
- The masculine noun יותר (yoter) or יתר (yoter), meaning superiority or advantage (Ecclesiastes 6:8, Esther 6:6).
- The feminine noun יתרת (yoteret), meaning appendage (Exodus 29:13, Leviticus 8:16).
- The masculine noun יתרון (yitron), meaning advantage, excellence, and which is used in Ecclesiastes only: Ecclesiastes 1:3, 5:15, 10:11.
- The masculine noun מותר (motar), meaning abundance (Proverbs 14:23), or pre-eminence (Ecclesiastes 3:19).