Jeremiah 31:15
Thus said the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) A voice was heard in Ramah.—The sharp contrast between this and the exulting joy of the previous verse shows that we are entering on a new section which repeats in altered form the substance of the foregoing, presenting in succession the same pictures of present woe and future gladness. The prophet sees first the desolation of the captivity. Rachel, as the mother of Joseph, and therefore of Ephraim, becomes the ideal representative of the northern kingdom. Her voice is heard in Ramah (possibly, as in 1Samuel 22:6, Ezekiel 16:24, and in the Vulgate here, not as the name of a locality, but in its general meaning, from a mountain height) weeping for the children who have been slain or carried into exile. When used elsewhere as a proper name, the noun always has the article. Here it stands without it. If Ramah be definitely one of the places of that name, known fully as Ramathaim-zophim (1Samuel 1:1; 1Samuel 1:19), it is probably that within the borders of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25), not far from Rachel’s sepulchre (1Samuel 10:2). She, even in her grave, weeps for her children. The mention of Ramah in Isaiah 10:29 seems to indicate that it was the scene of some special massacre in the progress of the Assyrian invader, in the reign of Hezekiah; and Jeremiah may possibly refer to it, as well as to some later atrocity, in connection with that of the Chaldæans (comp. Jeremiah 40:1), over which Rachel, in her sepulchre near Bethlehem, is supposed to weep. Possibly also the meaning of the name Rachel (= ewe) may have added something to the force of the prophet’s description. He hears the cry of the ewe on the hill-top bleating for her lambs. The passage has gained a special significance as being cited by St. Matthew (Matthew 2:18), as fulfilled in Herod’s massacre of the infants of Bethlehem. On the nature of this fulfilment see Note on Matthew 2:18.

Jeremiah 31:15-17. Thus saith the Lord; A voice, &c. — Here “the scene of this prophecy changes, and two new personages are successively introduced, in order to diversify the subject, and to impress it more strongly on the mind of the reader. The first is Rachel, who in these verses is represented as just rising from the grave, and bitterly bewailing the loss of her children, for whom she looks about in vain, but none are to be seen. Her tears are dried up, and she is consoled with the assurance that they are not lost for ever, but shall in time be brought back to their ancient borders.” The passage is strongly figurative, but not difficult of interpretation, as the reader will perceive by what follows: A voice was heard in Ramah — Ramah was a city of Benjamin, (see Jdg 19:13,) near which Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was buried. She is here, in a beautiful figure of poetry, represented as come forth out of her grave, and, as chief mourner on so sad an occasion, lamenting bitterly for the loss of her children, none of whom presented themselves to her view, being all either slain or gone into exile. In this way the prophet sets forth the lamentations, in and about Jerusalem, at the time of the several captivities mentioned Jeremiah 52:15; Jeremiah 52:28-30. The evangelist indeed applies these words to Herod’s massacre of the infants at Bethlehem and its environs, Matthew 2:17-18. But the context here plainly shows, that this massacre could not have been the direct and immediate object of the prophecy, (see the following note,) but the prophet’s words so well suited the occasion that the evangelist, with great propriety, observes their congruity therewith. He must however be understood just as if he had said, The circumstances of this affair were such that the words of Jeremiah, though spoken with a different view, may well be accommodated to this event. And this is as much as can be allowed with respect to several passages of the New Testament, where the words of the Old Testament were said to be fulfilled. See Matthew 2:16; Acts 1:16-20, &c.; and Blaney. It is observable, that the Vulgate and Chaldee understand the word, רמה, ramah, not as a proper name, but as an appellative, and translate it, in excelso, on high, or, aloud; according to which the sense will be, A voice is heard on high, or aloud, lamentations, weepings; of Rachel bewailing her children, and refusing to be comforted concerning them, because they are not. Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears — Set bounds to thy sorrow, repress and moderate thy inordinate and excessive grief; for thy work shall be rewarded — That is, it will appear thou hast not brought forth children in vain, nor shalt thou be deprived of the satisfaction of seeing the welfare of thy children, which is the parent’s reward for her pain in bringing them into the world, and her care and attention in providing for their support and education; for they shall come again from the land of the enemy. Thus the text interprets itself. But if the massacre at Bethlehem had been primarily designed here, with what propriety could it have been said, how could it have been affirmed, that they should return fromthe land of the enemy, or, as in the next verse, should come again to their own border? The words ישׁ תקוה לאחריתךְ, rendered here, There is hope in thine end, may be translated, There is hope, or expectation, to thy posterity; that is, though these of the present age do not experience a return from captivity, yet their posterity shall enjoy that blessing. This promise was particularly fulfilled with respect to the tribe of Benjamin, as well as that of Judah, in their return under Cyrus. See Ezra 1:5.31:10-17 He that scattered Israel, knows where to find them. It is comfortable to observe the goodness of the Lord in the gifts of providence. But our souls are never valuable as gardens, unless watered with the dews of God's Spirit and grace. A precious promise follows, which will not have full accomplishment except in the heavenly Zion. Let them be satisfied of God's loving-kindness, and they will be satisfied with it, and desire no more to make them happy. Rachel is represented as rising from her grave, and refusing to be comforted, supposing her offspring rooted out. The murder of the children at Bethlehem, by Herod, Mt 2:16-18, in some degree fulfilled this prediction, but could not be its full meaning. If we have hope in the end, concerning an eternal inheritance, for ourselves and those belonging to us, all temporal afflictions may be borne, and will be for our good.The religious character of the restoration of the ten tribes. Chastisement brought repentance, and with it forgiveness; therefore God decrees their restoration.

Jeremiah 31:15

Ramah, mentioned because of its nearness to Jerusalem, from which it was distant about five miles. As the mother of three tribes, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, Rachel is regarded as the mother of the whole ten. This passage is quoted by Matthew (marginal reference) as a type. In Jeremiah it is a poetical figure representing in a dramatic form the miserable condition of the kingdom of Ephraim devastated by the sword of the Assyrians.

15. Ramah—In Benjamin, east of the great northern road, two hours' journey from Jerusalem. Rachel, who all her life had pined for children (Ge 30:1), and who died with "sorrow" in giving birth to Benjamin (Ge 35:18, 19, Margin; 1Sa 10:2), and was buried at Ramah, near Beth-lehem, is represented as raising her head from the tomb, and as breaking forth into "weeping" at seeing the whole land depopulated of her sons, the Ephraimites. Ramah was the place where Nebuzara-dan collected all the Jews in chains, previous to their removal to Babylon (Jer 40:1). God therefore consoles her with the promise of their restoration. Mt 2:17, 18 quotes this as fulfilled in the massacre of the innocents under Herod. "A lesser and a greater event, of different times, may answer to the single sense of one passage of Scripture, until the prophecy is exhausted" [Bengel]. Besides the temporary reference to the exiles in Babylon, the Holy Spirit foreshadowed ultimately Messiah's exile in Egypt, and the desolation caused in the neighborhood of Rachel's tomb by Herod's massacre of the children, whose mothers had "sons of sorrow" (Ben-oni), just as Rachel had. The return of Messiah (the representative of Israel) from Egypt, and the future restoration of Israel, both the literal and the spiritual (including the innocents), at the Lord's second advent, are antitypical of the restoration of Israel from Babylon, which is the ground of consolation held out here by Jeremiah. The clause, "They were not," that is, were dead (Ge 42:13), does not apply so strictly to the exiles in Babylon as it does to the history of Messiah and His people—past, present, and future. So the words, "There is hope in thine end," are to be fulfilled ultimately, when Rachel shall meet her murdered children at the resurrection, at the same time that literal Israel is to be restored. "They were not," in Hebrew, is singular; each was not: each mother at the Beth-lehem massacre had but one child to lament, as the limitation of age in Herod's order, "two years and under," implies; this use of the singular distributively (the mothers weeping severally, each for her own child), is a coincidence between the prophecy of the Beth-lehem massacre and the event, the more remarkable as not being obvious: the singular, too, is appropriate as to Messiah in His Egyptian exile, who was to be a leading object of Rachel's lamentation. Interpreters are much divided in the sense of these words, whether they should refer to the slaughter of the Jews belonging to the ten tribes, upon their being captivated by the Assyrians, or to the slaughter of the Jews, upon the siege and taking of the city by the king of Babylon, or to Herod’s killing the infants in Bethlehem. Certain it is, the evangelist, Matthew 2:18, applieth them unto the latter; but whether the evangelist’s application of it be as a literal fulfilling of the prophecy, or by way of allusion, or no, is the question. Those that think that it is primarily to be understood of the slaughter of the infants, urge,

1. That Matthew 2:18, so applies it.

2. That women’s mourning for children seems rather to be for the loss of infants, (as was there,) than expressive of the mourning of all sorts of people, in a general desolation.

3. That the place of the mourning seems to hint it; for Ramah was near to Bethlehem, and contained under the coasts about Bethlehem, mentioned by the evangelist.

4. The words

because they were not they think make for them; for by being carried into captivity, they did not cease to be, though they ceased to be in that happy estate they were in before.

5. Because they think that this is here propounded as a sign of his coming, upon whose coming these promises of felicity to the Jews should be fulfilled. These reasons are not unanswerable; for,

1. Matthew may apply it only by way of allusion, speaking of such a providence, when such a thing should happen as happened before; in which sense particular texts of Scripture are in Scripture often said to be fulfilled, though they had their fulfilling before.

2. Rachel here doth not signify a single person, no, nor a particular sex, but is brought in as a common parent, lamenting the loss of her offspring.

3. Ramah was indeed near Bethlehem, but it was a city in the tribe of Benjamin, Joshua 18:25 1 Kings 15:17. Rachel was, buried betwixt it and Bethlehem, Genesis 35:19 1 Samuel 10:2; and it was also the place where Nebuzaradan, after he had taken Jerusalem, disposed of his prisoners, as we read, Jeremiah 40:14. Though the greater part of the Jews were not slain, but carried into captivity; yet doubtless many were slain, and those left alive were not as to her, being now carried out of Canaan into a strange land.

5. Although the promises in this chapter made to the Jews were more eminently and fully made good under the kingdom of Christ; yet it may be doubted whether any of these promises were primarily and solely fulfilled to them under the kingdom of Christ, but literally before that time, though more fully and largely then. In Ramah therefore a voice was heard, that is, in Canaan, and particularly in Ramah, where Nebuzaradan, Jeremiah 40:1, disposed of the prisoners he had taken, setting some at liberty, (as Jeremiah in particular,) ordering others to death, and carrying the rest away to Babylon, which caused a bitter weeping and lamentation.

Rachel weeping for her children: Rachel is here brought in, having been buried near that place, as if she were risen up from the grave, and lamented the Jewish nation, which came out of her loins, (for so Benjamin did, which was one of the two tribes that made the kingdom of Judah,) all the people of which tribe are properly enough called her children. Rachel here signifieth all the Benjamitish women who descended from Rachel.

Refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not; and, like a passionate woman, she refused all arguments of comfort, because her children either were not absolutely, being slain by the pestilence, the famine, and the sword of the king of Babylon, or were no longer her children, being transplanted and removed into Babylon. So as I take this text literally and primarily to refer to the lamentation for the miseries the people suffered, upon the king of Babylon’s taking the city; to which mourning Matthew alludeth, there being a lamentation like this when Herod caused the infants of two years old to be slain in Bethlehem, and in the coasts about Bethlehem, of which Ramah was one. Thus saith the Lord, a voice was heard in Ramah,.... Which signifies a high place; hence the Targum paraphrases it,

"in the high place of the world;''

and so the Vulgate Latin version,

"in a high place;''

but it is here the proper name of a place, of a city in the tribe of Benjamin, Joshua 18:25; and this voice heard was not a voice of joy and gladness as before, but of

lamentation and bitter weeping; signifying great sorrow and distress upon some very extraordinary occasion; and is as follows:

Rachel weeping for her children; not really and in person, but by a figurative way of speaking. Rachel is introduced as representing the Jewish women in those parts mourning for their slaughtered infants, even those that were slaughtered some time after the birth of Christ; for to this barbarous fact are the words applied by the Evangelist Matthew, as a fulfilment of them, Matthew 2:16; and with great propriety and pertinence is Rachel brought in as the chief, yea, sole mourner, representing all the sorrowful mothers; since Ramah was in the tribe of Benjamin, a child of hers, as far as which, it seems, the bloody massacre referred to reached, from Bethlehem, where it began; and since Rachel's grave was between these two places, Genesis 35:18; she is represented as rising out of her grave to act this part; or it signifies, that could she have been sensible of this inhuman affair, and could have come out of her grave, she would have done what she is here represented to do; and the rather is she mentioned, since she was so affectionately fond and desirous of children, Genesis 30:1;

refused to be comforted for her children; by any of her friends, the loss was so great, the affliction so heavy:

because they were not; or, "because he was not" (q); the Messiah was not, but was slain among the rest of the children, as the Jewish mothers, whom Rachel represented, imagined; and this heightened their distress, and filled them with more grief and trouble than the loss of their own children: but as Matthew has the plural number, the Targum, and all the Oriental versions, it is best to understand it of the children who "were not"; that is, they were dead; they were not in the land of the living, as this phrase is used in Genesis 37:30; which shows that this is not to be understood of the Babylonish captivity, and of the mourning of the Jewish women on that account; since the cause of this was death, and not captivity; besides, mourning for so general a calamity as captivity would not have been confined to mothers, and to some only, and to one particular place; though so the Jewish writers interpret it; and the Targum, which is,

"a voice was heard in the high place of the world, the house of Israel weeping and mourning after Jeremiah the prophet, whom Nabuzaradan the chief of those that slew, sent from Ramah; lamentation and weeping with bitterness, Jerusalem weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were gone into captivity.''

(q) "quia non ipse", Vatablus; "vel non ille" i.e. "non sit ullus", Schmidt.

Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; {t} Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

(t) To declare the greatness of God's mercy in delivering the Jews, he shows them that they were like the Benjamites of the Israelites, that is, utterly destroyed and carried away, so much so that if Rachel the mother of Benjamin could have risen again to seek her children she would have found none remaining.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
15. This v. is specially familiar to us through St Matt. (Jeremiah 2:17 f.), who quotes it after relating the slaughter of the Innocents at Bethlehem. The prophecy is quoted as an illustration or type. The mourning at Ramah is a forecast of that bitter wailing which shall be raised by the mothers of the slaughtered babes. The geographical connexion of Ramah and Bethlehem cannot be maintained, and depends upon a statement which is probably a gloss in Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7, “Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem).” Ramah is mentioned first in Joshua 18:25, between Gibeon and Beeroth, five miles north of Jerusalem, and is very possibly identical with the birth-place, home, and place of burial of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:19; 1 Samuel 25:1). It was much too far from Bethlehem to be in any way immediately connected with the subject in illustration of which St Matt. quotes the passage. It was at Ramah that the exiles were assembled before departing for Babylon, as described ch. Jeremiah 40:1. The appropriateness of calling upon Rachel to weep in Ramah consists in this, that her tomb (1 Samuel 10:2 f.) was on the N. border of Benjamin, not far from Bethel which was ten miles N. of Jerusalem, and thus apparently in the neighbourhood of Ramah as well. See the whole question discussed, with views of the probable site, in Pal. Explor. Fund Quart. Statement, April 1912, pp. 74 ff. (Clermont-Ganneau and R. A. S. Macalister).

15–17. Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is heard weeping for her lost sons. She is bidden to dry her tears, for there is hope.

15–22. See introd. summary to the section. These striking vv. may be confidently considered as stamped with Jeremiah’s personality.Verses 15-22. - From this glorious prospect Jeremiah's eye turns to the melancholy present. The land of Ephraim is orphaned and desolate. The prophet seems to hear Rachel weeping for her banished children, and comforts her with the assurance that they shall yet be restored. For Ephraim has come to repentance, and longs for reconciliation with his God, and God, who has overheard his soliloquy, relents, and comes to meet him with gracious promises. Then another voice is heard summoning Ephraim to prepare for his journey home. This verse is quoted by St. Matthew (Matthew 2:17) with reference to the massacre of the innocents, with τότε ἐπληρώθη prefixed. The latter formula of itself suggests that there was a previous fulfilment of the prophecy, but that the analogy of the circumstances of the innocents justifies - nay, requires - the admission of a second fulfilment. In fact, the promise of the Messianic age seemed in as much danger of being rendered void when Herod wreaked his fury on the children of Bethlehem, as when the tribes of Israel were scattered in exile. Dean Stanley finds a geographical inconsistency in the two passages. "The context of Jeremiah 31:15 implies that the Ramah of the prophet was in the northern kingdom, probably Ramah of Benjamin. The context of Matthew 2:18, on the other hand, implies that the Ramah of the evangelist was within sight of Bethlehem" ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 225). But this remark involves the assumption that the quotation was not intended merely as an application. Verse 15. - A voice was heard; rather, is heard. It is a participle, indicating the continuance of the action. In Ramah. In the neighbourhood of which town Rachel was buried, according to 1 Samuel 10:2 ("the city" where Samuel and Saul were - 1 Samuel 9:25 - appears to have been Ramah). Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel ("Rahel" is only a Germanizing way of writing the name), being the ancestress of the three tribes, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, is represented as feeling like a mother for all the tribes connected with those three. Her "weeping" is no mere figure of speech. Jeremiah believes that the patriarchs and holy men of old continue to feel an interest in the fortunes of their descendants (comp. Isaiah 63:16). The restoration of Israel. - Jeremiah 31:7. "For thus saith Jahveh: Shout for joy over Jacob, and cry out over the head of the nations! Make known, praise, and say, I Jahveh, save Thy people, the remnant of Israel! Jeremiah 31:8. Behold, I will bring them out of the land of the north, and will gather them from the sides of the earth. Among them are the blind and lame, the woman with child and she that hath born, together; a great company shall they return hither. Jeremiah 31:9. With weeping shall they come, and with supplications will I lead them: I will bring them to streams of water, by a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. Jeremiah 31:10. Hear the word of Jahveh, ye nations, and declare among the islands far off, and say: He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd his flock. Jeremiah 31:11. For Jahveh hath redeemed Israel and ransomed him out of the hand of one stronger than he. Jer 31:12. And they shall come and sing with joy on the height of Zion, and come like a flood to the goodness of Jahveh, because of corn, and new wine, and fresh oil, and the young of the flock and the herd; and their soul shall be like a well-watered garden, neither shall they pine away any more. Jeremiah 31:13. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and young men and old men together; and I will turn their mourning to joy, and will comfort them, and will cause them to rejoice after their sorrow. Jeremiah 31:14. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fat, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith Jahveh."

In order to set forth the greatness of the salvation which the Lord will prepare for Israel, so long outcast, Israel is commanded to make loud jubilation, and exhorted to approach the Lord with entreaties for the fulfilment of His purpose of grace. The statement regarding this salvation is introduced by כּי, "for," since the description, given in this strophe, of Israel's being led back and re-established, furnishes the actual proof that the nation shall be built up again. The summons to rejoice comes from Jahveh (since, by His gracious dealings, He gives the people material for praise), and is addressed to the members of the nation. These are to rejoice over Jacob, i.e., over the glorious destiny before the people. צהלו is translated by Hitzig: "shout at the head of the nations," i.e., making a beginning among them all; but this is incorrect and against the context. The thought that many other enslaved nations besides Israel will rejoice over the fall of their oppressors, has not the least foundation in this passage. The summons to the nations, which follows in Jeremiah 31:19, is simply a command to make known God's purpose regarding the deliverance of Israel. Of course, בּראשׁ, taken literally and by itself, may be rendered "at the head" (1 Kings 21:12; Amos 6:7, etc.); but in this place, the expression of which it forms the first word is the object of צהלו, which is construed with בּ, "to rejoice over something," Isaiah 24:4. "The head of the nations" signifies "the first of the nations" (ראשׁית הגּוים, Amos 6:1), i.e., the most exalted among the nations. Such is the designation given to Israel, because God has chosen them before all the nations of the earth to be His peculiar people (Deuteronomy 7:6; 2 Samuel 7:23.), made them the highest over (עליון על, Deuteronomy 26:19) all nations. This high honour of Israel, which seemed to have been taken from him by his being delivered over to the power of heathen nations, is now to appear again. השׁמיעוּ, "make to be heard, sing praise," are to be combined into one thought, "sing praise loudly" (so that people may hear it). The words of praise, "Save Thy people, O Jahveh," form rather the expression of a wish than of a request, just as in many psalms, e.g., Psalm 20:10; Psalm 28:9, especially Psalm 118:25 in הושׁיאה נא, with which Jesus was greeted on His entry into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:9 (Graf). - To the rejoicing and praise the Lord replies with the promise that He will lead back His people out of the most distant countries of the north, - every one, even the feeble and frail, who ordinarily would not have strength for so long a journey, "Hither," i.e., to Palestine, where Jeremiah wrote the promise; cf. Jeremiah 3:18; Jeremiah 16:15.

"With weeping," i.e., with tears of joy, and with contrition of heart over favour so undeserved, they come, and God leads them with weeping, "amidst earnest prayers to the God they have found again, as a lost son returns to the arms of his father" (Umbreit). Hitzig and Graf would connect בּתחנוּנים with what precedes, and combine "I will lead them, I will bring them;" by this arrangement, it is said, the careful guidance of God, in leaving nothing behind, is properly set forth. But the symmetry of the verse is thereby destroyed; and the reason assigned for this construction (which is opposed by the accents), viz., that תּחנוּנים does not mean miseratio, clementia, will not stand the test. As in Isaiah 55:12 it is the being brought בּשׂמחה that is the chief point, so here, it is the bringing בּתחנוּנים, amidst weeping, i.e., fervent prayer. At the same time, the Lord will care like a father for their refreshment and nurture; He will lead them to brooks of water, so that they shall not suffer thirst in the desert (Isaiah 48:21), and guide them by a straight (i.e., level) road, so that they shall not fall. For He shows Himself again to Israel as a father, one who cares for them like a father (cf. Jeremiah 3:19; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:6), and treats Ephraim as His first-born. "The first-born of Jahveh," in Exodus 4:22, means the people of Israel as compared with the other nations of the earth. This designation is here transferred to Ephraim as the head and representative of the ten tribes; but it is not likely that there is in this any allusion to the preference which Jacob displayed for the sons of Joseph, Genesis 49:22. compared with Jeremiah 31:4 (Venema, J. D. Michaelis, Ngelsbach) - the advantage they obtained consisting in this, that Ephraim and Manasseh were placed on an equal footing with Jacob's sons as regards inheritance in the land of Canaan; in other words, they were elevated to the dignity of being founders of tribes. There is no trace in this prophecy of any preference given to Ephraim before Judah, or of the ten tribes before the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah. That the deliverance of Ephraim (Israel) from exile is mentioned before that of Judah, and is further more minutely described, is simply due to the fact, already mentioned, that the ten tribes, who had long languished in exile, had the least hope, according to man's estimation, of deliverance. The designation of Ephraim as the first-born of Jahveh simply shows that, in the deliverance of the people, Ephraim is in no respect to be behind Judah, - that they are to receive their full share in the Messianic salvation of the whole people; in other words, that the love which the Lord once displayed towards Israel, when He delivered them out of the power of Pharaoh, is also to be, in the future, displayed towards the ten tribes, who were looked on as lost. The nature of fatherhood and sonship, as set forth in the Old Testament, does not contain the element of the Spirit's testimony to our spirit, but only the idea of paternal care and love, founded on the choosing of Israel out of all the nations to be the peculiar people of God; see on Exodus 4:22 and Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:7. בּכרי is substantially the same as יקּיר been בּן and ילד שׁעשׁעים in Jeremiah 31:20.

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