Zechariah 4:9
The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Zechariah

THE SOURCE OF POWER

THE FOUNDER AND FINISHER OF THE TEMPLE

Zechariah 4:9
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I am afraid that Zerubbabel is very little more than a grotesque name to most Bible-readers, so I may be allowed a word of explanation as to him and as to the original force of my text. He was a prince of the blood royal of Israel, and the civil leader of the first detachment of returning exiles. With Joshua, the high priest, he came, at the head of a little company, to Palestine, and there pathetically attempted, with small resources, to build up some humble house that might represent the vanished glories of Solomon’s Temple. Political enmity on the part of the surrounding tribes stopped the work for nearly twenty years. During all that time, the hole in the ground, where the foundations had been dug and a few courses of stones been laid, gaped desolate, a sad reminder to the feeble band of the failure of their hopes. But with the accession of a new Persian king, new energy sprang up, and new, favourable circumstances developed themselves. The Prophet Zechariah came to the front, although quite a young man, and became the mainspring of the renewed activity in building the Temple. The words of my text are, of course, in their plain, original meaning, the prophetic assurance that the man, grown an old man by this time, who had been honoured to take the first spadeful of soil out of the earth should be the man ‘to bring forth the headstone with shoutings of Grace, grace unto it!’

But whilst that is the original application, and whilst the words open to us a little door into long years of constrained suspension of work and discouraged hope, I think we shall not be wrong if we recognise in them something deeper than a reference to the Prince of David’s line, concerning whom they were originally spoken. I take them to be, in the true sense of the term, a Messianic prophecy; and I take it that, just because Zerubbabel, a member of that royal house from which the Messiah was to come, was the builder of the Temple, he was a prophetic person. What was true about him primarily is thereby shown to have a bearing upon the greater Son of David who was to come thereafter, and who was to build the Temple of the Lord. In that aspect I desire to look at the words now: ‘His hands have laid the foundation of the house, and His hands shall also finish it.’

I. There is, then, here a large truth as to Christ, the true Temple-builder.

It is the same blessed message which was given from His own lips long centuries after, when He spoke from heaven to John in Patmos, and said, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.’ The first letter of the Greek alphabet, and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and all the letters that lie between, and all the words that you can make out of the letters-they are all from Him, and He underlies everything.

Now that is true about creation, in the broadest and in the most absolute sense. For what does the New Testament say, with the consenting voice of all its writers? ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Without Him was not anything made that was made.’ His hands laid the foundations of this great house of the universe, with its ‘many mansions.’ And what says Paul? ‘He is the Beginning, in Him all things consist’ . . . ‘that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.’ And what says He Himself from heaven? ‘I am the First and the Last.’ So, in regard to everything in the universe, Christ is its origin, and Christ is its goal and its end. He ‘has laid the foundation, and His hands shall also finish it.’

But, further, we turn to the application which is the more usual one, and say that He is the Beginner and Finisher of the work of redemption, which is His only from its inception to its accomplishment, from the first breaking of the ground for the foundations of the Temple to the triumphant bringing forth of the last stone that crowns the corner and gleams on the topmost pinnacle of the completed structure. There is nothing about Jesus Christ, as it seems to me, more manifest, unless our eyes are blinded by prejudice, than that the Carpenter of Nazareth, who grew up amidst the ordinary conditions of infant manhood, was trained as other Jewish children, increased in wisdom, spoke a language that had been moulded by man, and inherited His nation’s mental and spiritual equipment, yet stands forth on the pages of these four Gospels as a perfectly original man, to put it on the lowest ground, and as owing nothing to any predecessor, and not as merely one in a series, or naturally accounted for by reference to His epoch or conditions. He makes a new beginning; He presents a perfectly fresh thing in the history of human nature. Just as His coming was the introduction into the heart of humanity of a new type, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, so the work that He does is all His own. He does it all Himself, for all that His servants do in carrying out the purposes dear to His heart is done by His working in and through them, and though we are fellow-labourers with Him, His hands alone lay every stone of the Temple.

Not only does my text, in its highest application, point to Jesus Christ as the Author of redemption from its very beginning, but it also declares that all through the ages His hand is at work. ‘Shall also finish it’-then He is labouring at it now; and we have not to think of a Christ who once worked, and has left to us the task of developing the consequences of His completed activity, but of a Christ who is working on and on, steadily and persistently. The builders of some great edifice, whilst they are laying its lower courses, are down upon our level, and as the building rises the scaffolding rises, and sometimes the platform where they stand is screened off by some frail canvas stretched round it, so that we cannot see them as they ply their work with trowel and mortar. So Christ came down to earth to lay the courses of His Temple that had to rest upon earth, but now the scaffolding is raised and He is working at the top stories. Though out of our sight, He is at work as truly and energetically as He was when He was down here. You remember how strikingly one of the Evangelists puts that thought in the last words of his Gospel-if, indeed, they are his words. ‘He was received up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God, and they went everywhere, preaching the word.’ Well, that looks as if there were a sad separation between the Commander and the soldiers that He had ordered to the front, as if He were sitting at ease on a hill overlooking the battlefield from a safe distance and sending His men to death. But the next words bring Him and them together-’The Lord also working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.’ And so, brethren, a work begun, continued, and ended by the same immortal Hand, is the work on which the redemption of the world depends.

II. Notice, secondly, that we have here the assurance of the triumph of the Gospel.

No doubt, in the long-forgotten days in which my text was spoken, there were plenty of over-prudent calculators in the little band of exiles who said, ‘What is the use of our trying to build in face of all this opposition and with these poor resources of ours?’ They would throw cold water enough on the works of Zerubbabel, and on Zechariah who inspired them. But there came the great word of promise to them, ‘He shall bring forth the headstone with shoutings.’ The text is the cure for all such calculations by us Christian people, and by others than Christian people. When we begin to count up resources, and to measure these against the work to be done, there is little wonder if good men and bad men sometimes concur in thinking that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has very little chance of conquering the world. And that is perfectly true, unless you take Him into the calculation, and then the probabilities look altogether different. We are but like a long row of ciphers, but put one significant figure in front of the row of ciphers and it comes to be of value. And so, if you are calculating the probabilities of the success of Christianity in the world and forget to start with Christ, you have left out the principal factor in the problem. Churches lose their fervour, their members die and pass away. He renews and purifies the corrupted Church, and He liveth for ever. Therefore, because we may say, with calm confidence, ‘His hands have laid the foundation of the house, and His hands are at work on all the courses of it as it rises,’ we may be perfectly sure that the Temple which He founded, at which He still toils, shall be completed, and not stand a gaunt ruin, looking on which passers-by will mockingly say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ When Brennus conquered Rome, and the gold for the city’s ransom was being weighed, he clashed his sword into the scale to outweigh the gold. Christ’s sword is in the scale, and it weighs more than the antagonism of the world and the active hostility of hell. ‘His hands have laid the foundation; His hands shall also finish it.’

III. Still further, here is encouragement for despondent and timid Christians.

Jesus Christ is not going to leave you half way across the bog. That is not His manner of guiding us. He began; He will finish. Remember the words of Paul which catch up this same thought: ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perfect the same until the day of Jesus Christ.’ Brethren! if the seed of the kingdom is in our hearts, though it be but as a grain of mustard seed, be sure of this, that He will watch over it and bless the springing thereof. So, although when we think of ourselves, our own slowness of progress, our own feeble resolutions, our own wayward hearts, our own vacillating wills, our many temptations, our many corruptions, our many follies, we may well say to ourselves, ‘Will there ever be any greater completeness in this terribly imperfect Christian character of mine than there is to-day?’ Let us be of good cheer, and not think only of ourselves, but much rather of Him who works on and in and for us. If we lift up our hearts to Him, and keep ourselves near Him, and let Him work, He will work. If we do not-like the demons in the old monastic stories, who every night pulled down the bit of walling that the monks had in the daytime built for their new monastery-by our own hands pull down what He, by His hand, has built up, the structure will rise, and we shall be ‘builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.’ Be of good cheer, only keep near the Master, and let Him do what He desires to do for us all. God is ‘faithful who hath called us to the fellowship of His Son,’ and He also will do it.

IV. Lastly, here is a striking contrast to the fate which attends all human workers.

There are very few of us who even partially seem to be happy enough to begin and finish any task, beyond the small ones of our daily life. Authors die, with books half finished, with sentences half finished sometimes, where the pen has been laid down. No man starts an entirely fresh line of action; he inherits much from his past. No man completes a great work that he undertakes; he leaves it half-finished, and coming generations, if it is one of the great historical works of the world, work out its consequences for good or for evil. The originator has to be contented with setting the thing going and handing on unfinished tasks to his successors. That is the condition under which we live. We have to be contented to do our little bit of work, that will fit in along with that of a great many others, like a chain of men who stand between a river and a burning house, and pass the buckets from end to end. How many hands does it take to make a pin? How many did it take to make the cloth of our dress? The shepherd out in Australia, the packer in Melbourne, the sailors on the ship that brought the wool home, the railwayman that took it to Bradford, the spinner, the weaver, the dyer, the finisher, the tailor-they all had a hand in it, and the share of none of them was fit to stand upright by itself, as it were, without something on either side of it to hold it up.

So it is in all our work in the world, and eminently in our Christian work. We have to be contented with being parts of a mighty whole, to do our small piece of service, and not to mind though it cannot be singled out in the completed whole. What does that matter, as long as it is there? The waters of the brook are lost in the river, and it, in turn, in the sea. But each drop is there, though indistinguishable.

Multiplication of joy comes from division of labour, ‘One soweth and another reapeth,’ and the result is that there are two to be glad over the harvest instead of one-’that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.’ So it is a good thing that the hands that laid the foundations so seldom are the hands that finish the work; for thereby there are more admitted into the social gladness of the completed results. The navvy that lifted the first spadeful of earth in excavating for the railway line, and the driver of the locomotive over the completed track, are partners in the success and in the joy. The forgotten bishop who, I know not how many centuries ago, laid the foundations of Cologne Cathedral, and the workmen who, a few years since, took down the old crane that had stood for long years on the spire, and completed it to the slender apex, were partners in one work that reached through the ages.

So let us do our little bit of work, and remember that whilst we do it, He for whom we are doing it is doing it in us, and let us rejoice to know that at the last we shall share in the ‘joy of our Lord,’ when He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. Though He builds all Himself, yet He will let us have the joy of feeling that we are labourers together with Him. ‘Ye are God’s building’; but the Builder permits us to share in His task and in His triumph.4:8-10 The exact fulfilment of Scripture prophecies is a convincing proof of their Divine original. Though the instruments be weak and unlikely, yet God often chooses such, to bring about great things by them. Let not the dawning light be despised; it will shine more and more to the perfect day. Those who despaired of finishing the work, shall rejoice when they see Zerubbabel giving directions what to do, and taking care that the work be done. It is a comfort to us that the same all-wise, almighty Providence, which governs the earth, is in particular conversant about the church. All that have the plummet in their hands, must look up to the eyes of the Lord, have constant regard to Divine Providence, act in dependence on its guidance and submission to its disposals. Let us fix our faith on Christ, and view Him carrying on his work according to his own glorious plan, and daily bringing his spiritual building nearer to completion.And the word of the Lord - Keil: "This word of the Lord is not addressed through 'the interpreting angel,' but direct from the Lord, and that through the 'Angel of the Lord' . For though in the first instance the words, "the hands of Zerubbabel etc.," relate to the building of the material temple, and announce its completion through Zerubbabel yet the inference, "and thou shalt know theft the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you," shows that the meaning is not exhausted thereby, but that here too this building is mentioned only as a type of the building of the spiritual temple ; and the completion of the typical temple is but a pledge of the completion of the true temple. For not through the completion of the material temple, but only through the building of the kingdom of God, shadowed forth by it, can Judah know, that the Angel of the Lord was sent to him." 9. Zerubbabel … shall … finish it—(Ezr 6:15) in the sixth year of Darius' reign.

Lord … sent me unto you—(Zec 2:9). The Divine Angel announces that in what He has just spoken, He has been commissioned by God the Father.

The hands; perhaps (as is customary) he did lay the first stone with his own hands; or rather, his direction, and command, and under his conduct.

Have laid the foundation, in the second year of Cyrus, perhaps forty years ago, likelier seventeen, but be those years more or less,

he shall finish it: thus the prophet expressly promiseth from the Lord, both continuance of Zerubbabel’s life, care, and power, as also his success in this work, to encourage both him and the Jews.

And thou, whoever thou art that dost hear me, both Zerubbabel and all among the Jews, shalt know, shall be fully assured, and certainly know,

that the Lord of hosts, God of truth and mercy, our God from our fathers, who remembers his covenant, hath sent me, commanded me to preach these things, unto you, returned captives and poor builders of this stately and magnificent house. The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house,.... The temple at Jerusalem, which was laid, or however renewed, after it had been long neglected, even the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, two months before this vision and prophecy, Haggai 2:18 compared with Zechariah 1:7,

his hands shall also finish it: signified by bringing in the head or top stone, Zechariah 4:7 and so Christ our great Zerubbabel has laid the foundation of his church, which is no other than himself; and is a foundation firm and strong, sure and certain, immovable and everlasting; and his hands will finish the building of it, by bringing and laying every elect soul upon this foundation; which may be concluded from his hands being those which have laid the foundations of the heavens and the earth; uphold all things in being, and hold the reins of government; and who, as Mediator, has all the persons of his people in his hands, and all grace and glory for them: his hands also have laid the foundation of grace in the hearts of his people, and he will finish it; he, who is the author, will be the finisher of faith:

and thou shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you; this clause is not an address to Zerubbabel, as Aben Ezra and others think; but to the people of the Jews, as appears from the plural word used, at the end of it; nor are the words spoken by the prophet of himself; though the Targum paraphrases them to this sense,

"and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me to prophesy unto you;''

that is, when they should see his prophecies accomplished, and the temple built, then they would know and acknowledge that he was a true prophet, sent of God unto them; nor is the angel designed, so often mentioned, that talked with the prophet; for he was sent, not to the Jews, but to him; but they are spoken by the Messiah, called "the Word of the Lord"; Zechariah 4:8 who, when he shall have finished the work of grace on every man's heart by his Spirit, and shall have completed the whole Gospel building, the church, by gathering in everyone of the elect; then it shall be known and owned by all, both the converted Jews and Gentiles, that he is the true Messiah, the sent of God to the forefathers of the Jews, who came to preach the Gospel to them, work miracles among them, and obtain eternal redemption for men.

The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and {g} thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me to you.

(g) Meaning, the Prophet, that I am Christ sent from my Father for the building and preservation of my spiritual temple.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9. thou shalt know, &c.] It is again asserted that the divine mission of the angel shall be proved by the accomplishment of that which he predicts. Comp. Zechariah 2:11; Deuteronomy 18:22.Verse 9. - Have laid the foundation. Zerubbabel had commenced the rebuilding in the second year of the return, in the second month (Ezra 3:8); it had been hindered by the opposition of the neighbouring people (Ezra 4:1-5, 24), and was not resumed till the second year of Darius. Shall finish it. The temple was finished in Darius's sixth year (Ezra 6:15). Thou shalt know, etc. The truth of the angel's mission would be proved by the event, viz. the successful issue (comp. ch. 2:9, 11; 6:15; Deuteronomy 18:22). The completion of the material temple was a pledge of the establishment of the spiritual temple, the Church of God. In Habakkuk 3:12 there follows a description of the judgment upon the nations for the rescue of the people of God. Habakkuk 3:12. "In fury Thou walkest through the earth, in wrath Thou stampest down nations. Habakkuk 3:13. Thou goest out to the rescue of Thy people, to the rescue of Thine anointed one; Thou dashest in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one, laying bare the foundation even to the neck. Selah. Habakkuk 3:14. Thou piercest with his spears the head of his hordes, which storm hither to beat me to powder, whose rejoicing is, as it were, to swallow the poor in secret. Habakkuk 3:15. Thou treadest upon the sea: Thy horses, upon the heap of great waters." The Lord, at whose coming in the terrible glory of the majesty of the Judge of the world all nature trembles and appears to fall into its primary chaotic state, marches over the earth, and stamps or tramples down the nations with His feet (compare the kindred figure of the treader of the winepress in Isaiah 63:1-6). Not all nations, however, but only those that are hostile to Him; for He has come forth to save His people and His anointed one. The perfects in Habakkuk 3:13-15 are prophetic, describing the future in spirit as having already occurred. יצא, referring to the going out of God to fight for His people, as in Judges 5:4; 2 Samuel 5:24; Isaiah 42:13, etc. ישׁע, rescue, salvation, is construed the second time with an accusative like an inf. constr. (see Ewald, 239, a). The anointed of God is not the chosen, consecrated nation (Schnur., Ros., Hitzig, Ewald, etc.); for the nation of Israel is never called the anointed one (hammâshı̄ăch) by virtue of its calling to be "a kingdom of priests" (mamlekheth kohănı̄m, Exodus 19:6), neither in Psalm 28:8 nor in Psalm 84:10; Psalm 89:39. Even in Psalm 105:15 it is not the Israelites who are called by God "my anointed" (meshı̄chai), but the patriarchs, as princes consecrated by God (Genesis 23:6). And so here also משׁיחך is the divinely-appointed king of Israel; not, however, this or that historical king - say Josiah, Jehoiakim, or even Jehoiachin - but the Davidic king absolutely, including the Messiah, in whom the sovereignty of David is raised to an eternal duration, "just as by the Chaldaean king here and in Psalm 2:1-12 we must understand the Chaldaean kings generally" (Delitzsch), wince the prophecy spreads from the judgment upon the Chaldaeans to the universal judgment upon the nations, and the Chaldaean is merely introduced as the possessor of the imperial power. The Messiah as the Son of David is distinguished from Jehovah, and as such is the object of divine help, just as in Zechariah 9:9, where He is called נושׁע in this respect, and in the royal Messianic psalms. This help God bestows upon His people and His anointed, by dashing in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one. The râshâ‛ (wicked one) is the Chaldaean, not the nation, however, which is spoken of for the first time in Habakkuk 3:14, but the Chaldaean king, as chief of the imperial power which is hostile to the kingdom of God. But, as the following clause clearly shows, the house is the house in the literal sense, so that the "head," as part of the house, is the gable. A distinction is drawn between this and yeshōd, the foundation, and צוּאר, the neck, i.e., the central part looking from the gable downwards. The destruction takes place both from above and below at once, so that the gable and the foundation are dashed in pieces with one blow, and that even to the neck, i.e., up to the point at which the roof or gable rests upon the walls. עד, inclusive, embracing the part mentioned as the boundary; not exclusive, so as to leave the walls still rising up as ruins. The description is allegorical, the house representing the Chaldaean dynasty, the royal family including the king, but not "including the exalted Chaldaean kingdom in all its prosperity" (Hitzig). ערות, a rare form of the inf. abs., like שׁתות in Isaiah 22:13 (cf. Ewald, 240, b), from ערה, to make bare, to destroy from the very foundation, the infinitive in the sense of the gerund describing the mode of the action.

The warlike nation meets with the same fate as the royal house (Habakkuk 3:14). The meaning of the first clause of the verse depends upon the explanation to be given to the word perâzâv. There is no foundation for the meaning leaders or judges, which has been claimed for the word perâzı̄m ever since the time of Schroeder and Schnur. In Hebrew usage perâzı̄ signifies the inhabitant of the plain (Deuteronomy 3:5; 1 Samuel 6:18), and perâzōth the plains, the open flat land, as distinguished from walled cities (Ezekiel 38:11). Perâzōn has the same meaning in Judges 5:7 and Judges 5:11. Consequently Delitzsch derives perâzâv from a segholate noun perez or pērez, in the sense of the population settled upon the open country, the villagers and peasantry, whence the more general signification of a crowd or multitude of people, and here, since the context points to warriors, the meaning hordes, or hostile companies, which agrees with the Targum, Rashi, and Kimchi, who explain the word as signifying warriors or warlike troops. ראשׁ, the head of his hordes, cannot be the leader, partly because of what follows, "who come storming on," which presupposes that not the leader only, but the hordes or warriors, will be destroyed, and partly also because of the preceding verse, in which the destruction of the king is pronounced, and also because the distinction between the king and the leader of the army is at variance with the complex character of the prophetic description. We must take ראשׁ in the literal sense, but collectively, "heads." The prophet was led to the unusual figure of the piercing of the head by the reminiscence of the piercing of Sisera's head by Jael (Judges 5:26). The suffixes in בּמטּיו and פּרזו refer back to רשׁע. מטּיו, sticks, for lance or spears, after 2 Samuel 18:14. The meaning of the words is this: with the spear of the king God pierces the heads of his warlike troops; and the thought expressed is, that the hostile troops will slay one another in consequence of the confusion, as was the case in the wars described in 1 Samuel 14:20 and 2 Chronicles 20:23-24, and as, according to prophecy, the last hostile power of the world is to meet with its ruin when it shall attack the kingdom of God (Ezekiel 38:21; Zechariah 14:13). יסערוּ להף is to be taken relatively: "which storm hither (sâ‛ar, approach with the swiftness and violence of a storm) to destroy me." The prophet includes himself along with the nation, and uses hēphı̄ts with reference to the figure of the dispersion or powdering of the chaff by a stormy wind (Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 13:24; Jeremiah 18:17). עליצתם forms a substantive clause by itself: "their rejoicing is," for they who rejoice, as if to swallow, i.e., whose rejoicing is directed to this, to swallow the poor in secret. The enemies are compared to highway murderers, who lurk in dark corners for the defenceless traveller, and look forward with rejoicing for the moment when they may be able to murder him. עני forms the antithesis to רשׁע. Inasmuch as "the wicked" denotes the Chaldaean; "the poor" is the nation of Israel, i.e., the congregation of the righteous, who are really the people of God. To devour the poor, i.e., to take violent possession of his life and all that he has (cf. Proverbs 30:14, and for the fact itself, Psalm 10:8-10), is, when applied to a nation, to destroy it (vid., Deuteronomy 7:16 and Jeremiah 10:25).

In order that these enemies may be utterly destroyed, God passes through the sea. This thought in Habakkuk 3:15 connects the conclusion of the description of the judicial coming of God with what precedes. The drapery of the thought rests upon the fact of the destruction of Pharaoh and his horsemen in the Red Sea (Exodus 14). The sea, the heap of many waters, is not a figurative expression for the army of the enemy, but is to be taken literally. This is required by דּרכתּ ביּם, since דּרך with ב, to tread upon a place, or enter into it (cf. Micah 5:4; Isaiah 59:8; Deuteronomy 11:24-25), does not suit the figurative interpretation; and it is required still more by the parallel passages, viz., Psalm 77:20 (בּיּם דּרכּך), which floated before the prophet's mind, and Zechariah 10:11. Just as God went through the Red Sea in the olden time to lead Israel through, and to destroy the Egyptian army, so will He in the future go through the sea and do the same, when He goes forth to rescue His people out of the power of the Chaldaean. The prophet does not express the latter indeed, but it is implied in what he says. סוּסיך is an accusative, not instrumenti, however, but of more precise definition: thou, namely, according to thy horses; for "with thy horses," as in Psalm 83:19; Psalm 44:3 (אתּה ידך); cf. Ewald, 281, c, and 293, c. The horses are to be taken, as in Habakkuk 3:8, as harnessed to the chariots; and they are mentioned here with reference to the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, which were destroyed by Jehovah in the sea. Chōmer, in the sense of heap, as in Exodus 8:10, is not an accusative, but is still dependent upon the ב of the parallel clause. The expression "heap of many waters" serves simply to fill up the picture, as in Psalm 77:20.

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