Open letters. They’ve enjoyed a long history in our culture, but with the advent of social media they’re experiencing an almost golden age. Not sure what they are? Trust me, you’ve seen them. The goal with an open letter is that it be read by a large group of people, even if it is at times addressed only to one. An open letter brings the public’s attention to a problem or situation they may or may not be aware of previously.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a notable, historical example, beginning with, “My Dear Fellow Clergymen.” Other less weighty, but nonetheless popular, open letters have begun with, “An Open Letter to the Woman Who Sold Us a Sick Dog” and “To the employee at the Panera in Augusta, Maine, who attempted to Mom-Shame me because my four-year-old had a tantrum.” Obviously, those last two examples were addressed to one individual, but meant to be read by tons of people.
While it may not come as quickly to mind, another historical example begins with, “To All the Exiles I Deported from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:4). That’s God’s letter via Jeremiah, addressed to the rest of the exiles, priests, prophets, and all the people King Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. Those recipients had been uprooted from their homes and found themselves in a foreign land indifferent to, if not hostile toward, the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What were the people to do? How were they to live?
God’s answer, through Jeremiah, no doubt surprised them. “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease” (Jeremiah 29:5–6). In short: “Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to” (v.7).
Restoration was on the horizon for God’s people, from their fortunes to their homeland, but not until a significant amount of time had passed (seventy years). Perhaps anticipating their potential “woe is us” mentality, wringing their hands and hiding out in caves over their newfound reality, God essentially says to them, “Settle down here, and live life among these people. I have not forgotten you. Don’t you forget about Me.”
The people were to hold fast to their identity as God’s chosen, to search and seek Him with all their hearts (v.13), while putting down roots in a foreign land. Does anything sound even remotely familiar there? Could it be that we, you and I, are part of that larger intended audience? Is there wisdom for us, too, within God’s open letter to His people from so long ago?
It seems the answer is yes.
Written by John Blase