2 Samuel 14:14
For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither does God respect any person: yet does he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) We must needs die.—The woman now goes on to a further argument from the uncertainty of life. Whether she would suggest the possibility of Absalom’s dying in banishment (as some think), or of David’s death before he has been reconciled to his son (as others hold) does not matter. She craftily withdraws attention from the real point—the question of right and justice—and, assuming that the thing ought to be done, suggests that delay is unsafe since life is uncertain. Still another explanation of her argument may be given: “Amnon is dead, and it is useless to grieve longer for him; God does not respect persons, Absalom too must die, and you yourself must die; improve the time and the blessings yet left while there is opportunity.”

Neither doth God respect any person.—The Hebrew is difficult, but the English is certainly wrong. The literal translation is “And God doth not take away the soul, but thinketh thoughts that He may not banish the banished one;” and the meaning is that God in wrath remembers mercy, and does not press punishment to extremes.

2 Samuel

GOD’S BANISHED ONES

2 Samuel 14:14
.

David’s good-for-nothing son Absalom had brought about the murder of one of his brothers, and had fled the country. His father weakly loved the brilliant blackguard, and would fain have had him back, but was restrained by a sense of kingly duty. Joab, the astute Commander-in-chief, a devoted friend of David, saw how the land lay, and formed a plan to give the king an excuse for doing what he wished to do. So he got hold of a person who is called ‘a wise woman’ from the country, dressed her as a mourner, and sent her with an ingeniously made-up story of how she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had killed the other, and of how the relatives insisted on their right of avenging blood, and demanded the surrender of the murderer; by which, as she pathetically said, ‘the coal’ that was left her would be ‘quenched.’ The king’s sympathy was quickly roused-as was natural in so impulsive and poetic a nature-and he pledged his word, and finally his oath, that the offender should be safe.

So the woman has him in a trap, having induced him to waive justice and to absolve the guilty by an arbitrary act. Then she turns upon him with an application to his own case, and bids him free himself from the guilt of double measures and inconsistency by doing with his banished son the same thing-viz. abrogating law and bringing back the offender. In our text she urges still higher considerations-viz. those of God’s way of treating criminals against His law, of whom she says that He spares their lives, and devises means-or, as the words might perhaps be rendered, ‘plans plannings’-by which He may bring them back. She would imply that human power and sovereignty are then noblest and likest God’s when they remit penalties and restore wanderers.

I do not further follow the story, which ends, as we all know, with Absalom’s ill-omened return. But the wise woman’s saying goes very deep, and, in its picturesque form, may help to bring out more vividly some truths-all-important ones-of which I wish to beg your very earnest consideration and acceptance.

I. Note, then, who are God’s banished ones.

The woman’s words are one of the few glimpses which we have of the condition of religious thought amongst the masses of Israel. Clearly she had laid to heart the teaching which declared the great, solemn, universal fact of sin and consequent separation from God. For the ‘banished ones’ of whom she speaks are no particular class of glaring criminals, but she includes within the designation the whole human race, or, at all events, the whole Israel to which she and David belonged. There may have been in her words-though that is very doubtful-a reference to the old story of Cain after the murder of his brother. For that narrative symbolises the consequences of all evil-doing and evil-loving, in that he was cast out from the presence of God, and went away into a ‘land of wandering,’ there to hide from the face of the Father. On the one hand, it was banishment; on the other hand, it was flight. So had Absalom’s departure been, and so is ours.

Strip away the metaphor, dear brethren, and it just comes to this thought, which I seek to lay upon the hearts of all my hearers now-you cannot be blessedly and peacefully near God, unless you are far away from sin. If you take two polished plates of metal, and lay them together, they will adhere. If you put half a dozen tiny grains of sand or dust between them, they will fall apart. So our sins have come between us and our God. They have not separated God from us, blessed be His name! for His love, and His care, and His desire to bless, His thought, and His knowledge, and His tenderness, all come to every soul of man. But they have rent us apart from Him, in so far as they make us unwilling to be near Him, incapable of receiving the truest nearness and blessedness of His presence, and sometimes desirous to hustle Him out of our thoughts, and, if we could, out of our world, rather than to expatiate in the calm sunlight of His presence.

That banishment is self-inflicted. God spurns away no man, but men spurn Him, and flee from Him. Many of us know what it is to pass whole days, and weeks, and years, as practical Atheists. God is not in all our thoughts.

And more than that, the miserable disgrace and solitude of a soul that is godless in the world is what many of us like. The Prodigal Son scraped all his goods together, and thought himself freed from a very unwelcome bondage, and a fine independent youth, when he went away into ‘the far country.’ It was not quite so pleasant when provisions and clothing fell short, and the swine’s trough was the only table that was spread before him. But yet there are many of us, I fear, who are perfectly comfortable away from God, in so far as we can get away from Him, and who never are aware of the degradation that lies in a soul’s having lowered itself to this, that it had rather not have God inconveniently near.

Away down in the luxurious islands of the Southern Sea you will find degraded Englishmen who have chosen rather to cast in their lot with savages than to have to strain and work and grow. These poor beach-combers of the Pacific, not happy in their degradation, but wallowing in it, are no exaggerated pictures of the condition, in reality, of thousands of us who dwell far from God, and far therefore from righteousness and peace.

II. Notice God’s yearning over His banished ones.

The woman in our story hints at, or suggests, a parallel which, though inadequate, is deeply true. David was Absalom’s father and Absalom’s king; and the two relationships fought against each other in his heart. The king had to think of law and justice; the father cried out for his son. The young man’s offence had neither altered his relationship nor affected the father’s heart.

All that is true, far more deeply, blessedly true, in regard to our relation, the wandering exiles’ relation, to God. For, whilst I believe that the highest form of sonship is only realised in the hearts of men who have been made partakers of a new life through Jesus Christ, I believe, just as firmly and earnestly, that every man and woman on the face of the earth, by virtue of physical life derived from God, by virtue of a spiritual being, which, in a very real and deep sense, still bears the image of God, and by reason of His continued love and care over them, is a child of His. The banished son is still a son, and is ‘His banished one.’ If there is love-wonderful as the thought is, and heart-melting as it ought to be-there must be loss when the child goes away. Human love would not have the same name as God’s unless there were some analogy between the two. And though we walk in dark places, and had better acknowledge that the less we speak upon such profound subjects the less likely we are to err, yet it seems to me that the whole preciousness of the revelation of God in Scripture is imperilled unless we frankly recognise this-that His love is like ours, delights in being returned like ours, and is like ours in that it rejoices in presence and knows a sense of loss in absence. If you think that that is too bold a thing to say, remember who it was that taught us that the father fell on the neck of the returning prodigal, and kissed him; and that the rapture of his joy was the token and measure of the reality of his regret, and that it was the father to whom the prodigal son was ‘lost.’ Deep as is the mystery, let nothing, dear brethren, rob us of the plain fact that God’s love moves all around the worst, the unworthiest, the most rebellious in the far-off land, and ‘desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his iniquity and live.’

And it is you, you, whom He wants back; you whom He would fain rescue from your aversion to good and your carelessness of Him. It is you whom He seeks, according to the great saying of the Master, ‘the Father seeketh’ for worshippers in spirit and in truth.

III. Note the formidable obstacles to the restoration of the banished.

The words ‘banished’ and ‘expelled’ in our text are in the original the same; and the force of the whole would be better expressed if the same English word was employed as the equivalent of both. We should then see more clearly than the variation of rendering in our text enables us to see, that the being ‘expelled’ is no further stage which God devises means to prevent, but that what is meant is that He provides methods by which the banished should not be banished-that is, should be restored to Himself.

Now, note that the language of this ‘wise woman,’ unconsciously to herself, confesses that the parallel that she was trying to draw did not go on all fours; for what she was asking the king to do was simply, by an arbitrary act, to sweep aside law and to remit penalty. She instinctively feels that that is not what can be done by God, and so she says that He ‘devises means’ by which He can restore His banished.

That is to say, forgiveness and the obliteration of the consequences of a man’s sin, and his restoration to the blessed nearness to God, which is life, are by no means such easy and simple matters as people sometimes suppose them to be. The whole drift of popular thinking to-day goes in the direction of a very superficial and easy gospel, which merely says, ‘Oh, of course, of course God forgives! Is not God Love? Is not God our Father? What more do you want than that?’ Ah! you want a great deal more than that, my friends. Let me press upon you two or three plain considerations. There are formidable obstacles in the way of divine forgiveness.

If there are to be any pardon and restoration at all, they must be such as will leave untouched the sovereign majesty of God’s law, and, untampered with, the eternal gulf between good and evil. That easygoing gospel which says, ‘God will pardon, of course!’ sounds very charitable and very catholic, but at bottom it is very cruel. For it shakes the very foundations on which the government of God must repose. God’s law is the manifestation of God’s character; and that is no flexible thing which can be bent about at the bidding of a weak good-nature. I believe that men are right in holding that certainly God must pardon, but I believe that they are fatally wrong in not recognising this-that the only kind of forgiveness which is possible for Him to bestow is one in which there shall be no tampering with the tremendous sanctions of His awful law; and no tendency to teach that it matters little whether a man is good or bad. The pardon, which many of us seem to think is quite sufficient, is a pardon that is nothing more noble than good-natured winking at transgression. And oh! if this be all that men have to lean on, they are leaning on a broken reed. The motto on the blue cover of the Edinburgh Review, for over a hundred years now, is true: ‘The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted.’ David struck a fatal blow at the prestige of his own rule, when he weakly let his son off from penalty. And, if it were possible to imagine such a thing, God Himself would strike as fatal a blow at the justice and judgment which are the foundations of His throne, if His forgiveness was such as to be capable of being confounded with love which was too weakly indulgent to be righteous.

Further, if there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they must be such as will turn away the heart of the pardoned man from his evil. The very story before us shows that it is not every kind of pardon which makes a man better. The scapegrace Absalom came back unsoftened, without one touch of gratitude to his father in his base heart, without the least gleam of a better nature dawning upon him, and went flaunting about the court until his viciousness culminated in his unnatural rebellion. That is to say, there is a forgiveness which nourishes the seeds of the crimes that it pardons. We have only to look into our own hearts, and we have only to look at the sort of people round us, to be very sure that, unless the forgiveness that is granted us from the heavens has in it an element which will avert our wills and desires from evil, the pardon will be very soon needed again, for the evil will very soon be done again.

If there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they must come in such a fashion as that there shall be no doubt whatsoever of their reality and power. The vague kind of trust in a doubtful mercy, about which I have been speaking, may do all very well for people that have never probed the depths of their own hearts. Superficial notions of our sin, which so many of us have, are contented with superficial remedies for it. But let a man get a glimpse of his own real self, and I think that he will wish for something a great deal more solid to grip hold of, than nebulous talk of the kind that I have been describing. If once we feel ourselves to be struggling in the black flood of that awful river, we shall want a firmer hold upon the bank than is given to us by some rootless tree or other. We must clutch something that will stand a pull, if we are to be drawn from the muddy waters.

People say to us, ‘Oh, God will forgive, of course!’ Does this world look like a place where forgiveness is such an easy thing? Is there anything more certain than that consequences are inevitable when deeds have been done, and ‘that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap’ and whatsoever he brews that shall he also drink? And is it into a grim, stern world of retribution like this that people will come, with their smiling, sunny gospel of a matter-of-course forgiveness, upon very easy terms of a slight penitence?

Brethren, God has to ‘devise means,’ which is a strong way of saying, in analogy to the limitations of humanity, that He cannot, by an arbitrary act of His will, pardon a sinful man. His eternal nature forbids it. His established law forbids it. The fabric of His universe forbids it. The good of men forbids it. The problem is insoluble by human thought. The love of God is like some great river that pours its waters down its channel, and is stayed by a black dam across its course, along which it feels for any cranny through which it may pour itself. We could never save ourselves, but

‘He that might the vengeance best have took,

Found out the remedy.’


IV. And so the last word that I have to say is to note the triumphant, divine solution of these difficulties.

The work of Jesus Christ, and the work of Jesus Christ alone, meets all the requirements. It vindicates the majesty of law, it deepens the gulf between righteousness and sin. Where is there such a demonstration of the awful truth that ‘the wages of sin is death’ as on that Cross on which the Son of God died for us and for all ‘His banished ones’? Where is there such a demonstration of the fixedness of the divine law as in that death to which the Son of God submitted Himself for us all? Where do we learn the hideousness of sin, the endless antagonism between God and it, and the fatal consequences of it, as we learn them in the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour? Where do we find the misery and desolation of banishment from God so tragically uttered as in that cry which rent the darkness of eclipse,’ My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

That work of Christ’s is the only way by which it is made absolutely certain that sins forgiven shall be sins abhorred; and that a man once restored shall cleave to his Restorer as to his Life. That work is the only way by which a man can be absolutely certain that there is forgiveness, in spite of all the accusations of his own conscience; in spite of all the inexorable working out of penalties in the system of the world which seems to contradict the fond belief; in spite of all that a foreboding gaze tells, or ought to tell, of a judgment that is to follow.

Brethren, God has devised a means. None else could have done so. I beseech you, realise these facts that I have been trying to bring before you, and the considerations that I have based upon them, so far as they commend themselves to your hearts and consciences; and do not be content with acquiescing in them, but act upon them. We are all exiles from God, unless we have been ‘brought nigh by the blood of Christ.’ In Him, and in Him alone, can God restore His banished ones. In Him, and in Him alone, can we find a pardon which cleanses the heart, and ensures the removal of the sin which it forgives. In Him, and in Him alone, can we find, not a peradventure, not a subjective certainty, but an external fact which proclaims that verily there is forgiveness for us all. I pray you, dear friends, do not be content with that half-truth, which is ever the most dangerous lie, of divine pardon apart from Jesus Christ. Lay your sins upon His head, and your hand in the hand of the Elder Brother, who has come to the far-off land to seek us, and He will lead you back to the Father’s house and the Father’s heart, and you will be ‘no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.’2 Samuel 14:14. For we must needs die — Some by one means, and some by another; death being the common lot of all men, Amnon must have died, if Absalom had not cut him off; and Absalom, if he do not die by the hand of justice, must die by the necessity of nature, and, if he be not recalled soon, may die in exile, which would undoubtedly be a great affliction both to thee, O king, and to the people of God. And thou thyself must die, and therefore art obliged to take care of the life of thy successor Absalom, and to endeavour to preserve it instead of taking it away, or exposing it to danger. For when dead, we are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again — Amnon’s life is irrecoverable, and, therefore, it is in vain to keep Absalom in banishment on account of it: and if Absalom be cut off also, his life too will be lost, both to thee and to thy people. For God doth not respect any person — So far as to exempt him from this common lot of dying: but kings and their sons, in this respect, share the same fate with others. This, however, it must be acknowledged, was very weak reasoning; for by the same way of arguing every crime might be suffered to go unpunished. It must be observed here, that the Hebrew לא ישׂא נפשׁ, lo jissa nephesh, here rendered, doth not respect persons, is translated by Houbigant and many other learned men, according to the ancient versions, doth not take away the soul, or life. Thus understood, she argues from the sparing mercy of God, who does not immediately inflict the punishment of death when men have deserved it. And, probably, she meant this to be applied particularly to Absalom, whom God had not cut off, but suffered to live: and therefore she desires David to imitate God, and not to be inexorable to one to whom God had shown mercy. Yet doth he — Or, rather, BUT, he doth devise means that his banished be not expelled from him — She means, that God had provided many cities of refuge to which he that slew another unawares might flee; where, though he was banished from his habitation for a time, he was not quite expelled, but might return again after the death of the high-priest. From whence she argues, that kings being the images of God, nothing could more become them than clemency and mercy, in mitigating the punishment of offenders, though there should be a just cause of anger against them. But this case was still different from that of Absalom; for God was not so merciful as to provide for the safety of wilful murderers. But such specious arguments are good enough when men are willing to be persuaded.14:1-20 We may notice here, how this widow pleads God's mercy, and his clemency toward poor guilty sinners. The state of sinners is a state of banishment from God. God pardons none to the dishonour of his law and justice, nor any who are impenitent; nor to the encouragement of crimes, or the hurt of others.His banished - The use of the word as applied to one of the people of God driven into a pagan land, is well illustrated by Deuteronomy 30:4-5; Jeremiah 40:12; Micah 4:6; Zephaniah 3:19.

Neither doth God respect any person - Some prefer the margin: "And God does not take away life, in the case of every sin that deserves death, e. g. David's own case 2 Samuel 12:13, but devises devices that the wanderer may not be forever expelled from him, i. e., for the return of penitent sinners."

13-17. Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing against the people of God, &c.—Her argument may be made clear in the following paraphrase:—You have granted me the pardon of a son who had slain his brother, and yet you will not grant to your subjects the restoration of Absalom, whose criminality is not greater than my son's, since he killed his brother in similar circumstances of provocation. Absalom has reason to complain that he is treated by his own father more sternly and severely than the meanest subject in the realm; and the whole nation will have cause for saying that the king shows more attention to the petition of a humble woman than to the wishes and desires of a whole kingdom. The death of my son is a private loss to my family, while the preservation of Absalom is the common interest of all Israel, who now look to him as your successor on the throne. We must needs die, Heb. in dying we shall die, i. e. we shall certainly and suddenly die all of us; both thou, O king, who therefore art obliged to take due care of thy successor, who is Absalom; and Absalom, who, if he do not die by the hand of justice, must shortly die by the necessity of nature; and Amnon too must have died in the common way of all flesh, if Absalom had not cut him off. Therefore, O king, be not implacable towards Absalom for nipping a flower a little before its time of fading, and restore him to us all before he die in a strange land.

Spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; which is quickly drunk up and buried in the earth, and cannot be recovered.

Neither doth God respect any person, to wit, so far as to exempt him from this common law of dying. But this version seems not to agree with the Scripture phrase; for

the accepting of a person is never to my knowledge expressed in Hebrew by nasa nephesh, which is the phrase here, but by nasa panira, every where. The words therefore may be rendered either thus, yet God will not take away, or doth not use to take away, (the future tense oft noting a continued act, as Hebricians observe,) the soul, or souls, or lives of men, to wit, by violence. God doth not severely and instantly cut off offenders, but suffers them to live till they die by the course of nature; and therefore so shouldst thou do too. Or rather thus yet God hath not taken away his soul or life; the pronoun his being understood here as it is in many other places, and as being easily supplied out of the context. So the sense is, God hath hitherto spared him, and did not suffer his brethren to kill him, as in reason might have been expected; nor hath God himself yet cut him off for his murder, as he oft doth with persons who are out of the magistrate’s reach; but hath hitherto preserved him even in a heathenish land; all which are intimations that God would have him spared.

Yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him; or, but hath devised means, &c., i.e. hath given laws to this purpose, that the man-slayer who is banished should not always continue in banishment, but upon the high priest’s death return to his own city; whereby he hath showed his pleasure that the avenger of blood should not implacably persist in seeking revenge, and that the man-slayer should be spared. Or rather thus, but thinketh thoughts, or, but hath designed, or, therefore he intendeth that he who is banished (to wit, Absalom) be not (always) expelled or banished from him, i.e. from God and from his people, and from the place of his worship, but that he should return home to him. So the sense is, that God, by sparing Absalom’s life in the midst of dangers, did sufficiently intimate that he would in due time bring him back to his land and people. For we must needs die,.... As all must, herself, the king, and his sons, and indeed all men; this is the common case and lot of men; particularly she insinuates that David must die, and that there must be a successor named, and perhaps a dispute would arise about one; which might be fatal, if Absalom was not recalled in his lifetime; and that Amnon must have died in a little time if he had not been killed by his brother; and Absalom, he must die also quickly, and therefore what signifies taking away his life? he may as well live a little longer; this, however plausible, was but bad reasoning in the case of a malefactor:

and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; which sinks into the earth, and cannot be got out of it again; so men, when they die, are buried in the earth, and cannot be gathered or restored to life again, until the resurrection of the dead; and since Amnon is dead, and he cannot be brought to life again, it is best to be easy, and not seek to take away the life of another; which is to bring him into the same irrecoverable state and condition:

neither doth God respect any person; the words in the original are, "God doth not take away the soul or life" (p); of every offender, but spares them notwithstanding the crimes they have committed; and therefore it became the king to be sparing and merciful to offenders, and particularly to his own son; and perhaps she any tacitly have respect to David himself who had been guilty both of murder and adultery, either of which deserved death; and yet God had not taken away his life, but in his great mercy had spared him; and therefore, since he had received mercy, he should show it: or "God hath not taken away his soul or life"; the life of Absalom; he had not cut him off himself by his immediate hand, nor suffered the king's sons to take away his life, nor any other to seize upon him, and bring him to justice, whom David might have employed; but had by his providence protected and preserved him; so that it seemed to be his will and pleasure that he should not be put to death:

yet doth he devise means that his banished be not expelled from him; from his word, worship, and ordinances, as Absalom was; and by protecting him by his providence, it looked as if it was his will, and he would find out ways and means for bringing him back to his country, his father's court, and the sanctuary of the Lord; even as, by the law concerning the cities of refuge for the manslayer, provision was made that at the death of the high priest the exiled person might return to his country.

(p) "et non tollet Deus animam", Montanus; so the Tigurine version.

For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise {h} means, that his banished be not expelled from him.

(h) God has often provided ways (as sanctuaries) to save them, whom man judges worthy of death.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14. For we must needs die] The argument of this verse seems to be, that since life is uncertain and cannot be restored, and since God Himself sets the example of mercy, David should be reconciled to his son at once, before it is too late. For the simile of water spilt, cp. Psalm 58:7.

neither doth God respect any person] This translation cannot be defended. Better: and God doth not take away life, but deviseth devices (lit. thinketh thoughts, cp. 2 Samuel 14:13) to the end that he may not [utterly] banish a banished one. The statement is quite general, but contains a pointed allusion to God’s mercy in sparing David’s own life when he had deserved death for adultery and murder, and devising a plan to bring him to repentance and so restore him to His presence.Verse 14. - Neither doth God, etc. This translation is altogether wrong. What the woman says is, "God taketh not life [Hebrew, 'a soul'] away, but thinketh thoughts not to banish from him his banished one." Her argument is that death is the common lot, and that there is no way of bringing back the dead to life. But though death is thus a universal law, yet God does not kill. Death is not a penalty exacted as a punishment, but, on the contrary, he is merciful, and when a man has sinned, instead of putting him to death, he is ready to forgive and welcome back one rejected because of his wickedness. The application is plain. The king cannot restore Amnon to life, and neither must he kill the guilty Absalom, but must recall his banished son. The argument is full of poetry, and touching to the feelings, but is not very sound. For God requires repentance and change of heart; and there was no sign of contrition on Absalom's part. The power of the woman's appeal lay in what she says of God's nature. He is not intent on punishing, nor bent on carrying out the sentences of the Law in their stern literalness; but he is ready to forgive, and "deviseth devices" to bring home those now separate from him. There is also much that is worth pondering over in the distinction between death as a law of nature, and death as a penalty. The one is necessary, and often gentle and beneficial; but death as a penalty is stern and terrible. The plan succeeded. The king replied to the woman, "Go home, I will give charge concerning thee," i.e., I will give the necessary commands that thy son may not be slain by the avenger of blood. This declaration on the part of the king was perfectly just. If the brothers had quarrelled, and one had killed the other in the heat of the quarrel, it was right that he should be defended from the avenger of blood, because it could not be assumed that there was any previous intention to murder. This declaration therefore could not be applied as yet to David's conduct towards Absalom. But the woman consequently proceeded to say (2 Samuel 14:9), "My lord, O king, let the guilt be upon me and upon my father's house, and let the king and his throne be guiltless." כּסּא, the throne, for the government or reign. The meaning of the words is this: but if there should be anything wrong in the fact that this bloodshed is not punished, let the guilt fall upon me and my family. The king replied (2 Samuel 14:10), "Whosoever speaketh to thee, bring him to me; he shall not touch thee any more." אליך does not stand for עליך, "against thee;" but the meaning is, whoever speaks to thee any more about this, i.e., demands thy son of thee again.
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