Ezekiel 21:21
For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) To use divination.—Various particular forms of divination are mentioned just afterwards. This is a general term to include them all. Divination was always resorted to by the heathen on occasions of important questions. In this case, while Nebuchadnezzar thought in this way to determine his action, it was already fixed for him by a higher Power.

Made his arrows bright.—Rather, shook his arrows. This was a mode of divination in use among the ancient Arabs, as well as in Mesopotamia, and something very similar is mentioned by Homer as practised among the ancient Greeks (II., iii. 316). It continued to be used among the Arabs until the time of Mohammed, who strictly torbade it in the Koran (3:39, 5:4, 94). Several arrows, properly marked, were shaken together in a quiver or other vessel, and one drawn out. The mark upon the one drawn was supposed to indicate the will of the gods. It was thus simply one form of casting lots.

Consulted with images.—The particular images here mentioned were “teraphim,” small idols, which are often spoken of in Scripture as used in divination by the Israelites themselves, and common also among the heathen. (See 1Samuel 15:23, where the word “idolatry” is in the original “teraphim.”) Nothing is known of the way in which these were used in divination.

Looked in the liver.—The inspection of the entrails of sacrificial victims, and especially of the liver, as a means of ascertaining the will of the gods, is familiar to every reader of classical literature. There is evidence that the same custom prevailed also in Babylonia. The king is represented as employing all these different kinds of divination to make sure of the proper path.

Ezekiel 21:21-22. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way — The prophet here expresses what was future as if it were past, according to the usual style of the prophets, when speaking of things soon to come to pass. And he explains the symbolical action spoken of in the two foregoing verses; he shows that it was designed to represent what the king of Babylon would do when he was on his march, and came to the place where the road was divided; that he would use divination to determine which of the roads he should take. He made his arrows bright — The Vulgate reads, Commiscens sagittas, Mingling his arrows; which sense of the verb קלקל, agrees better with the accounts given us by ancient writers of this kind of divination, and therefore is preferred by Dr. Pocock, who confirms it by the Arabic use of the word. It is also adopted by Bishop Newcome. The way of divining by arrows is thus described by St. Jerome in his commentary on this place: “They wrote on several arrows the names of the cities they intended to assault; and then, putting them all together promiscuously in a quiver, they drew them out thence as lots are drawn; and that city whose name was written on the arrow first drawn was the city they first made war upon.” A method of divining by arrows is still in use, it appears, among the idolatrous Arabs. Of this we read the following description, in Sale’s Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, p. 126: “Seven divining arrows were kept at the temple of Mecca; but generally, in divination, the idolatrous Arabs made use of three only, on one of which was written, My Lord hath commanded me; on another, My Lord hath forbidden me; and the third was blank. If the first was drawn, they looked on it as an approbation of the enterprise in question; if the second, they made a contrary conclusion; but if the third happened to be drawn, they mixed them, and drew over again, till a decisive answer was given by one of the others.” He consulted with images — The Hebrew word here is teraphim, the name given to the images, or gods, which Rachel stole from Laban, Genesis 31:19. In what way these were consulted cannot now be said, and all conjectures about it are vain. He looked in the liver — This was another way of divination used among these heathen; they determined for or against certain things, according to the state of the liver of sacrificed animals, whether mutilated or complete, sound or unsound, or from its colour, or some marks appearing in particular places of it, and this by rules laid down among them. At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem — When the king of Babylon stood at the head of the two ways, to consult which of the two he should take, the tokens that were shown him, God so ordering it, induced him to march with his army to the right, that is, toward Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar must be considered as coming from Dan, and marching along the river Jordan. Rabbath was therefore situated to the left hand, and Jerusalem to the right: see Michaelis. From this, and many other instances in the Scriptures, we may conclude, that things apparently the most fortuitous, such as the coming up of lots, and the like, are subject to the direction of Divine Providence, and, when occasion requires it, are ordered to answer its purposes; to open the mouth in the slaughter — Or, to the slaughter; that is, to animate the soldiers to slay. To lift up the voice with shouting — To make the military cry, in order to strike the inhabitants with terror. We find it was usual, in almost all armies, to begin the attack of their enemies with a loud cry, which served to animate their own men, and to intimidate the enemy. To cast a mount — See note on Jeremiah 22:24.21:18-27 By the Spirit of prophecy Ezekiel foresaw Nebuchadnezzar's march from Babylon, which he would determine by divination. The Lord would overturn the government of Judah, till the coming of Him whose right it is. This seems to foretell the overturnings of the Jewish nation to the present day, and the troubles of states and kingdoms, which shall make way for establishing the Messiah's kingdom throughout the earth. The Lord secretly leads all to adopt his wise designs. And in the midst of the most tremendous warnings of wrath, we still hear of mercy, and some mention of Him through whom mercy is shown to sinful men.The Chaldaean king is depicted standing at the entrance of the holy land from the north, meditating his campaign, using rites of divination that really belonged to the Akkadians, a primitive race which originally occupied the plains of Mesopotamia. The Accadians and the Etruscans belong through the Finnish family to the Turanian stock; this passage therefore shows a characteristic mode of divination in use among two widely separated nations; and as the Romans acquired their divination from the conquered Etruscans, so the Chaldaeans acquired the same art from the races whose soil they had occupied as conquerors.

He made his arrows briqht - Rather, he shook his arrow; a mode of divination much in practice with the Arabians. It was usual to place in some vessel three arrows, on one of which was written, "My God orders me;" on the other, "My God forbids me;" on the third was no inscription. These three arrows were shaken together until one came out; if it was the first, the thing was to be done; if the second, it was to be avoided; if the third, the arrows were again shaken together, until one of the arrows bearing a decided answer should come forth.

Images - Teraphim (Genesis 31:19 note).

He looked in the liver - It was the practice both of the Greeks and the Romans (derived from the Etruscans) to take omens from the inspection of the entrails (especially the liver) of animals offered in sacrifice.

21. parting—literally, "mother of the way." As "head of the two ways" follows, which seems tautology after "parting of the way," Havernick translates, according to Arabic idiom, "the highway," or principal road. English Version is not tautology, "head of the two ways" defining more accurately "parting of the way."

made … bright—rather, "shook," from an Arabic root.

arrows—Divination by arrows is here referred to: they were put into a quiver marked with the names of particular places to be attacked, and then shaken together; whichever came forth first intimated the one selected as the first to be attacked [Jerome]. The same usage existed among the Arabs, and is mentioned in the Koran. In the Nineveh sculptures the king is represented with a cup in his right hand, his left resting on a bow; also with two arrows in the right, and the bow in the left, probably practising divination.

images—Hebrew, "teraphim"; household gods, worshipped as family talismans, to obtain direction as to the future and other blessings. First mentioned in Mesopotamia, whence Rachel brought them (Ge 31:19, 34); put away by Jacob (Ge 35:4); set up by Micah as his household gods (Jud 17:5); stigmatized as idolatry (1Sa 15:23, Hebrew; Zec 10:2, Margin).

liver—They judged of the success, or failure, of an undertaking by the healthy, or unhealthy, state of the liver and entrails of a sacrifice.

The prophet, by reason of the certainty of the thing, speaketh of what shall be as if it were already; he stood, i.e. he will make a halt, pitch his camp, and consult, on the borders of Arabia the Desert, to which one road brings travellers from Babylon, but henceforward it divides, and be comes two, one leading to Jerusalem, the other to Rabbath

To use divination; to consult with his gods, and to cast lots; and here the prophet foretells what divination he useth.

Made his arrows bright: this, the first kind of divination he used by arrows, (Begouanteia,) either writing on then the names of the cities and countries, then putting then into a quiver, and there mixing them, and thence drawing them out, and concluding according as the names were which were on the arrows, or perhaps by shooting the arrows and judging by the flight, or casting them up in the air and divining by their fall, as beggars are said to go a their staff falls. So then if Jerusalem were on the first arrow drawn out of the quiver, or if the arrows best ties or most fell that way, toward Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar will take that way. The next way of divining was by asking counsel of his idol, or image, which being made artificially by the skill of their juggling priests and conjurers, with little help they could give answers, and the image spake aloud what the sorcerer spake more softly, somewhat like the artificial whispering places which convey the voice, from unseen persons. Or by a Divine permission the devil gave them answers from those images. The third divination is by sacrifice, and judging of future prosperous or unprosperous events by the entrails, and more especially by the liver, its position and colour. All these he used, that with greater confidence of success he might proceed. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways,.... That is, he would stand there; the prophet knew that it was certain it should be, and therefore represents it as if it was; he had, by a spirit of prophecy, seen, that when the king of Babylon was come to such a place, on the borders of the desert of Arabia, where the road from Babylon parted, where two ways met, the one leading to Jerusalem on the right, and the other to Rabbath on the left, he should make a full stop with his army, and consider which way he should take, whether that which led to Jerusalem, or that which led to Rabbath. It is very probable, when he came out of Babylon, his scheme was to make an attempt on both these important places, and take them; but be had not determined which to attack first, and was still doubtful; and now being come to the two roads, which led to the one and the other, it was necessary to make a halt, consider, and conclude, which course to steer; to determine which, he thought proper "to use divination", which was performed in the following manner:

he made his arrows bright; being made of iron or steel; in the brightness of which diviners looked, and made their observations, and accordingly directed what was to be done; as they did by looking into the brightness of a man's nails, as David Kimchi observes; though his father, Joseph Kimchi, was of opinion that the word has the signification of casting of arrows, or causing them to fly in the air; and supposes that Nebuchadnezzar cast up arrows into the air, and observed on which side they fell, and so judged which way to take; to this agrees the Targum,

"with a bow he cast out arrows;''

so the Syriac and Arabic versions (b). Jerom says the way of divining by arrows was this: arrows, with the names of the cities inscribed upon them, were put into a quiver, and mixed together; and the city upon the arrow which came out first was first attacked. To this agrees the Vulgate Latin version, which renders the words, "mingling the arrows"; and Dr. Pocock (c) prefers this sense of the word, which he observes so signifies in the Arabic language; and who gives an account of the use of divination by arrows among the Arabians, who much used it; though forbidden by Mahomet, as Schultens (d) observes. Their custom was this; when a man was about to marry a wife, or go a journey, or do any business of importance, he put three arrows into a vessel; on one was inscribed,

"my lord hath commanded me;''

on another,

"my lord hath forbid me;''

the third had nothing on it. If the first he took out had the command upon it, then he proceeded with great alacrity: but if it had the prohibition, he desisted; and if that which had nothing inscribed on it, he laid it by, till one of the other two was taken out; and there is to this day a sort of divination by arrows used by the Turks; it is commonly for the wars, though it is also performed for all sorts of things; as to know whether a man should undertake a voyage, buy such a commodity, or the like. The manner of doing it, as Monsieur Thevenot (e) relates, is this; they take four arrows, and place them with their points against one another, giving them to be held by two persons; then they lay a naked sword upon a cushion before them, and read a certain chapter of the Alcoran; with that the arrows fight together for some time, and at length the one fall upon the other: if, for instance the victorious have been named Christians (for two of them they call Turks, and the other two by the name of their enemy), it is a sign that the Christians will overcome; if otherwise, it denotes the contrary. The Jews (f) say, that in the present case of Nebuchadnezzar, that when he or his diviner cast the arrow for Antioch, or for Tyre, or for Laodicea, it was broke; but when he cast it for Jerusalem, it was not broke; by which he knew that he should destroy it. This is that sort of divination which is called "belomancy": he consulted with images; or "teraphim"; images in which, as Kimchi says, they saw things future; Heathen oracles, from whence responses were made; these were images for private use, such as were the "lares" and "penates" with the Romans; these Laban had in his house in which Rachel stole from him; and are supposed to be such as are made under certain constellations, and their influences capable of speaking; see Zechariah 10:2, as Aben Ezra on Genesis 31:34 observes, with which men used to consult about things future or unknown; and this is thought to be one reason why Rachel took away these images from her father, that he might not, by consulting with them, know which way Jacob fled (g) with such as these the king of Babylon consulted, that he might know which way he should take:

he looked in the liver; of a beast slain, and made observations on that to direct him; as used to be done by the Aruspices among the Romans. This is that sort of divination which is called "hepatoscopy", or inspection into the liver; for though the Aruspices or Extispices, so called from their looking into the entrails of a beast, and making their observations on them, used to view the several inward parts, yet chiefly the liver, which they called the head of the intestines; and if this was wanting, or the head in it, the chief part of it, it was an ill omen; thus, in the month that Claudius Caesar was poisoned, the head of the liver was wanting in the sacrifice; or if the liver was livid, vicious, had any pustules upon it, or any purulent matter in it; or was touched, cut and wounded with the knife of the sacrificer, it foreboded great evils and misfortunes; or if the extreme part of the liver, which is called the fibre, was so placed, that from the lowest fibre the livers were replicated, or there was a double liver, this was a token for good, and portended joy and happiness (h): moreover, they used to divide the bowels or entrails into two parts, and so the liver; the one they called "familiaris", by which they judged what would befall themselves and their friends; the other "hostilis", what concerned their enemies; according to the habit, colour, and position they were in, they concluded what would befall the one and the other (i). Lucan (k) and Seneca (l) particularly have respect to this: and the king of Babylon here having two people to deal with, the Ammonites and the Jews, he inspects the liver of a creature slain for sacrifice, that he might judge which was best and safest for him to attack; which was less threatening, and more easy to be overcome (m): this divination used to be made with calves, kids, and lambs (n).

(b) So R. So. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 25, 2, interprets the word. (c) Specimen Arab. Hist. p. 327. (d) Animadv. in Job, p. 169, 170. (e) Travels, par. 1. B. 1. ch. 6. p. 36. (f) Midrash Tillim in Psal. lxxix. 1.((g) See Godwin's Moses and Aaron, l. 4. c. 9. (h) Vid. Alex. ab flex. Genial. Dier. l. 5. c. 25. & Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 37. (i) Vid. Valtrinum de Re Militari Roman. l. 1. c. 6. p. 27. Liv. & Ciceron. in ib. (k) "Cernit tabe jecur madidum, venasque minaces, Hostili de parte videt", &c. Pharsal. l. 1.((l) "Hostile valido robore insurlit latus." Oedipus, Acts 2. (m) Vid. Lydium de Re Militari, l. 1. c. 3. p. 9, 10. (n) Pausanias, l. 6. p. 345.

For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in {r} the liver.

(r) He used conjuring and sorcery.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21. for the king … stood] standeth. All the verbs had better be put in the present.

made his arrows bright] he shaketh the arrows, he consulteth the teraphim, he looketh in the liver. These ceremonies explain the phrase “to use divination,” The process has several parts: a sacrifice was offered to the deity or image, the liver of the animal apparently being inspected to see what intimations it suggested. Then arrows (among the Arabs they were pointless and unfeathered), inscribed with the names or things between which a decision was sought from the god (here Rabbah and Jerusalem), were cast into a vessel or bag; these were shaken and brought before the god from whom the decision was sought; one was then drawn, and the inscription it bore was the answer of the god to the alternative propounded for his settlement; in the present case the king’s right hand drew out the arrow inscribed “Jerusalem.” This method of divination by arrows was common among the Arabs (cf. Wellhausen, Skizzen, iii. p. 127), and apparently also in Chaldea (Lenormant, La Divination chez les Chaldéens, ch. ii. iv., Sayce, Trans. Soc. Bib. Archæology, vol. iii. 145). It is related of the poet Imru’ulḳais that he used this method of divination to ascertain whether he should avenge his father’s death or no, and the answer always coming out “no,” he became enraged and breaking the arrows flung them in the god’s face, telling him that if the case had been that of his own father he would not have given such a decision, and (in Arab fashion) applying many foul epithets to the god’s mother.—The teraphim are the deities which Nebuchadnezzar carried with him, who gave the oracle. The plur. does not imply the use of more than one image.The Sword is Sharpened for Slaying

Ezekiel 21:8. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Ezekiel 21:9. Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith Jehovah, A sword, a sword sharpened and also polished: Ezekiel 21:10. That it may effect a slaughter is it sharpened; that it may flash is it polished: or shall we rejoice (saying), the sceptre of my son despiseth all wood? Ezekiel 21:11. But it has been given to be polished, to take it in the hand; it is sharpened, the sword, and it is polished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. Ezekiel 21:12. Cry and howl, son of man, for it goeth over my people, it goeth over all the princes of Israel: they have fallen by the sword along with my people: therefore smite upon the thigh. Ezekiel 21:13. For the trial is made, and what if the despising sceptre shall not come? is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. Ezekiel 21:14. And thou, son of man, prophesy and smite the hands together, and the sword shall double itself into threefold, the sword of the pierced: it is the sword of a pierced one, of the great one, which encircles them. Ezekiel 21:15. That the heart may be dissolved, and stumbling-blocks may be multiplied, I have set the drawing of the sword against all their gates: Alas! it is made into flashing, drawn for slaying. Ezekiel 21:16. Gather thyself up to the right hand, turn to the left, whithersoever thine edge is intended. Ezekiel 21:17. And I also will smite my hands together, and quiet my wrath: I, Jehovah, have spoken it. - The description of the sword is thrown into a lyrical form (Ezekiel 21:8-13), - a kind of sword-song, commemorating the terrible devastation to be effected by the sword of the Lord. The repetition of חרב in Ezekiel 21:9 is emphatic. הוּחדּה is the perfect Hophal of חדד, to sharpen. מרוּטה is the passive participle of מרט, to polish; מרטּה (Ezekiel 21:10), the participle Pual, with מ dropped, and Dagesh euphon. היה, a rare form of the infinitive for היות. The polishing gives to the sword a flashing brilliancy, which renders the sharpness of its edge still more terrible. The very obscure words, 'או נשׂישׂ וגו, I agree with Schmieder and Kliefoth in regarding as a protest, interposed by the prophet in the name of the people against the divine threat of the sword of vengeance, on the ground of the promises which had been given to the tribe of Judah. או, or perhaps; introducing an opposite case, or an exception to what has been said. The words 'שׁבט are to be taken as an objection, so that לאמר is to be supplied in thought. The objection is taken from the promise given in Jacob's blessing to the tribe of Judah: "the sceptre will not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:10). שׁבט בּני points unquestionably to this. בּני is taken from Ezekiel 21:9, where the patriarch addresses Judah, whom he compares to a young lion, as בּני. Consequently the sceptre of my son is the command which the patriarch holds out to view before the tribe of Judah. This sceptre despises all wood, i.e., every other ruler's staff, as bad wood. This view is not rendered a doubtful one by the fact that שׁבט is construed as a feminine here, whereas it is construed as a masculine in every other case; for this construction is unquestionable in Ezekiel 21:7 (12), and has many analogies in its favour. All the other explanations that have been proposed are hardly worth mentioning, to say nothing of refuting, as they amount to nothing more than arbitrary conjectures; whereas the assumption that the words are to be explained from Genesis 49:10 is naturally suggested by the unquestionable allusion to the prophecy in that passage, which we find in Ezekiel 21:27 of the present chapter. ויּתּן in Ezekiel 21:11 is to be taken adversatively, "but he gave it (the sword) to be sharpened." The subject to ויּתּן is not Jehovah, but is indefinite, "one" (man, Angl. they), although it is actually God who has prepared the sword for the slaughter of Israel. The train of thought is the following: Do not think we have no reason to fear the sharply-ground sword of Jehovah, because Judah has received the promise that the sceptre shall not depart from it; and this promise will certainly be fulfilled, and Judah be victorious over every hostile power. The promise will not help you in this instance. The sword is given to be ground, not that it may be put into the scabbard, but that it may be taken in the hand by a slayer, and smite all the people and all its princes. In the phrase היא הוּחדּה חרב, חרב is in apposition to the subject היא, and is introduced to give emphasis to the words. It is not till Ezekiel 21:19 that it is stated who the slayer is; but the hearers of the prophecy could be in no doubt. Consequently - this is the connection with Ezekiel 21:12 - there is no ground for rejoicing from a felling of security and pride, but rather an occasion for painful lamentation.

This is the meaning contained in the command to the prophet to cry and howl. For the sword will come upon the nation and its princes. It is the simplest rendering to take היא as referring to הרב, היה ב, to be at a person, to fasten to him, to come upon him, as in 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 24:17. מגוּרי, not from גּוּר, but the passive participle of מגר in the Pual, to overthrow, cast down (Psalm 89:45): "fallen by the sword have they (the princes) become, along with my people." The perfects are prophetic, representing that which will speedily take place as having already occurred. - Smiting upon the thigh is a sign of alarm and horror (Jeremiah 31:19). בּחן, perfect Pual, is used impersonally: the trial is made. The words allude to the victories gained already by Nebuchadnezzar, which have furnished tests of the sharpness of his sword. The question which follows וּמה contains an aposiopesis: and what? Even if the despising sceptre shall not come, what will be the case then? שׁבט מאסת, according to Ezekiel 21:10, is the sceptre of Judah, which despises all other sceptres as bad wood. יהיה, in this instance, is not "to be," in the sense of to remain, but to become, to happen, to come (come to pass), to enter. The meaning is, if the sceptre of Judah shall not display, or prove itself to possess, the strength expected of it. - With Ezekiel 21:14 the address takes a new start, for the purpose of depicting still further the operations of the sword. Smiting the hands together (smiting hand in hand) is a gesture expressive of violent emotion (cf. Ezekiel 6:11; Numbers 24:10). The sword is to double, i.e., multiply itself, into threefold (שׁלישׁתה, adverbial), namely, in its strength, or its edge. Of course this is not to be taken arithmetically, as it has been by Hitzig, but is a bold paradoxical statement concerning the terrible effect produced by the sword. It is not even to be understood as referring to three attacks made at different times by the Chaldeans upon Jerusalem, as many of the commentators suppose. The sword is called חבב חללים, sword of pierced ones, because it produces the pierced or slain. The following words are rendered by Hitzig and Kliefoth: the great sword of the slain. But apart from the tautology which this occasions, the rendering can hardly be defended on grammatical grounds. For, in the first place, we cannot see why the singular חלל should have been chosen, when the expression was repeated, instead of the plural חללים; and secondly, חגּדול cannot be an adjective agreeing with חרב, for חרב is a noun of the feminine gender, and is construed here as a feminine, as החדרת clearly shows. הגּדול is in apposition to חלל, "sword of a pierced man, the great one;" and the great man pierced is the king, as Ewald admits, in agreement with Hengstenberg and Hvernick. The words therefore affirm that the sword will not only slay the mass of the people, but pierce the king himself. (See also the comm. on Ezekiel 21:25.) - Ezekiel 21:15 is not dependent upon what precedes, but introduces a new thought, viz., for what purpose the sword is sharpened. God has placed the flashing sword before all the gates of the Israelites, in order that (למען, pleonastic for למען) the heart may dissolve, the inhabitants may lose all their courage for defence, and to multiply offendicula, i.e., occasions to fall by the sword. The ἁπ. λεγ. אבחת signifies the rapid motion or turning about of the sword (cf. Genesis 3:24); אבח, related to הפך, in the Mishna אפך. The ἁπ. λεγ. מעטּה, fem. of מעט, does not mean smooth, i.e., sharpened, synonymous with מרט, but, according to the Arabic m̀t, eduxit e vagina gladium, drawn (from the scabbard). In Ezekiel 21:16 the sword is addressed, and commanded to smite right and left. התאחדי, gather thyself up, i.e., turn with all thy might toward the right (Tanchum). To the verb השׂימוּ it is easy to supply פּניך, from the context, "direct thine edge toward the left." אנה, whither, without an interrogative, as in Joshua 2:5 and Nehemiah 2:16. מעדות, from יעד, intended, ordered; not, directed, turned. The feminine form may be accounted for from a construction ad sensum, the gender regulating itself according to the חרב addressed in פּניך. The command to the sword is strengthened by the explanation given by Jehovah in Ezekiel 21:17, that He also (like the prophet, Ezekiel 21:14) will smite His hands together and cool His wrath upon them (cf. Ezekiel 5:13).

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