Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 6)

6 typeChapter 6 describes the preacher’s (and the Lord’s) dilemma. The Word of the Lord is clear, but the people are unwilling to hear: “Their ears are closed (literally, “uncircumcised”) so they cannot hear” (10, see also 19).   Jeremiah can sense and even see the disaster that is coming (prophets were called “seers”). He is frantically trying to convey God’s message of warning, but is not taken seriously. Other voices (priests and prophets) are giving a far more comforting message: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (14).

This chapter includes God’s pronouncements of judgment and Jeremiah’s personal responses and reactions.   God’s direct declarations are found in 1-5, 6-9, 11b-12; 13-15; 16-20; 21, 22-23—note the translators use of quotation marks and phrases like “This is what the Lord Almighty says” in 6, 9, 16, 21, 22).   Jeremiah reacts emotionally to these dire declarations in 10-11a and 24-26. The chapter ends with God’s word to Jeremiah about his prophetic role as a “tester of metals” (27-30); Jeremiah bellows out God’s fiery words of warning, words intended to test and refine the people who hear them. Sadly, no purging is taking place, no dross is being consumed. The people are “rejected silver” (30).

warningOnce again, God gives the warning of impending “disaster out of the north” (1); once again the Lord forewarns them of a military attack (6, 22-23) that will devastate the land (specifically the trees—6), the cities (especially Jerusalem, the Daughter of Zion—2, 8, 24) and the people (children, young men, older people, husbands and wives—11).

The Lord clearly holds the people responsible for their stubborn refusal to listen to His Word (17) and walk in His ways (16). Further, the Lord clearly takes responsibility or the punishment inflicted by the Babylonian armies: “I will destroy the Daughter of Zion” (2); “…I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land” (12); “…they will be brought down when I punish them” (15).

Jeremiah is agitated by God’s pronouncement. On one hand he seems desperate to get someone to believe his message (“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? —10); on the other hand he is filled with a sense of God’s righteous wrath and can’t bottle it up inside him (11). Here we see the paradox of Jeremiah’s heart in this book. He weeps for the people and also rages against them. He is disgusted with their rebellion and distressed by their impending doom. He comes across as “against” the nation and “for” the nation—at the same time. In this way, he mirrors the heart of God.

These seemingly conflicted responses make Jeremiah such a complex and compelling figure to me. He’s a patriot and yet is seen as a traitor. He seems heartless and harsh in pronouncing judgment; he is tender and torn up in predicting destruction. He tears into the nation; He tears up over the nation. He is a faithful messenger and a good shepherd.

Jeremiah is an example for those of us who speak God’s Word to rebellious people in dangerous times. We must not pull back from prophetic words of warning and judgment. We must not imitate the false prophets and priests who “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (14). We must forcefully and faithfully communicate God’s Word. At the same time, we must do it with a tender heart that aches for those we serve and weeps over the painful consequences of their rebellion.

fireThe Lord compares Jeremiah’s role as His spokesman to “a tester of metals” (27-30). The word of the Lord is the fire, the people are the ore, and Jeremiah is to “observe and test their ways.” He is to see if the fiery message of warning and rebuke has a purifying effect on the people, burning away the “lead with fire” and purging out the wicked. But tragically, as God reports and Jeremiah observes, the people of Israel are “hardened rebels.” Though the “bellows blow fiercely”—a reference to God’s fiery words—the people do not change. They continue to sin with their words (“slander”) and “they all act corruptly.” The result is that after testing the people, God and Jeremiah have to pronounce them as “rejected silver.”

Here we see the intended impact of God’s Word on His people. As Jeremiah 23:28 says, God’s Word is a fire. The fire is meant to purge and purify evil, separating our sin from our silver. If we will not respond to God’s Word, we wind up as rejected silver. We can expect God’s fiery judgment to come upon us, like it did upon Israel.

cross roadsThe way to peace and protection is presented in the middle of this chapter: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’”(16).   The picture God gives is that of a traveler trying to find his way through life. He comes to a crossroads, a point of decision. Two roads diverge and he must choose one.   God counsels him to “ask for the ancient paths” which reveal the “good way.” God’s Word maps out the ancient paths for us. We don’t need something trendy but something time-tested. We follow in the footsteps of those who’ve walked with God by keeping to His ways. This is the way to peace—to rest for our souls.   This is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21).

 

 

 

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Prayer Update June 15

Linda and I have had some wonderful opportunities to teach God’s Word over the past few weeks.  I spoke several messages from John 15 at the AGC National Convention in Niagara Falls; Linda and I also did a workshop on “Soul Care for Ministry Leaders.”

Last Sunday I had the joy of speaking at the 54th anniversary service at Emmanuel Bible Church in Simcoe, Ontario.

GPAOn Tuesday, I flew to Dallas to teach at the Global Proclamation Academy.  Twenty-six young pastors from twenty-six countries were gathered at Dallas Seminary for three weeks of training.  I had the privilege of teaching them all day Wednesday.

Linda has been busy teaching as well.  She’s been recording video lectures for a course on Great Women of the Faith.  She’s also been teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at the University of Waterloo as part of her certification process for Teaching English as a Second Language.

restGod has graciously sustained and strengthened us through this full and fruitful season of service.  In the coming weeks, we are looking forward to taking some time away to rest and refuel!

Here are a few requests that I would ask you to remember when you pray for us and the ministry of Heritage College and Seminary.

Pray we would be refreshed in body and soul as we take some time to rest in the coming weeks.  We would love to be at full strength when the Fall semester begins.

Pray the Lord continues to direct spiritually stellar students to Heritage for training.  Enrolment for the Fall looks positive at this time.  But we are still open to receiving additional students who want to be better equipped for a lifetime of service.  [More information about enrolment can be found here.]

Pray that Heritage finishes its financial year (June 30th) in a strong position.  [If you would like to invest in this vital ministry of training pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders, you can do so here].

Thank YOU for your partnership in ministry.  May God refresh your souls this summer!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 5)

55This chapter gives a sad and shocking description of the spiritual state of God’s people in Jeremiah’s time. Verse 1 gives a thesis statement for this chapter: “If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” From the poor (4) to the leaders (5), they had all “made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent” (3).

In their spiritual hardness, they had lost all spiritual sensitivity. They had become callous to God’s attempt to rouse them through pain. They dismissed His true prophets as being full of hot air (“wind”—13). They wrote off the warnings of coming judgment as fear-mongering (“No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine”—12).

At the same time, they took for granted God’s ongoing kindness, presuming on his goodness. He supplied all their needs, but they still rushed to commit physical and spiritual adultery (7). They did not say to themselves, “Let us fear the Lord our God who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest” (24).

lepThis hardness of heart was a form of spiritual leprosy. They had become insensitive to God and numb to his painful discipline (“You struck them but they felt no pain”). They had become “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” (21).

Dr. Paul Brand says the destructive power of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) is that the God-given pain sensors fail to work. The body is numb to pain. So people put their hands on hot plates or cut themselves without knowing it. Infection sets in and limbs get deformed or destroyed. Jeremiah confronts a people who had lost their spiritual sensitivity (conscience) and so were acting in ways that were self-destructive.

Their spiritual “rebellion” and “backsliding” led to a break down in society. Without a healthy fear of God, those in power abused their power. The “rich and powerful” got that way by setting traps for people (26-27). Rather than defending the “fatherless” and “rights of the poor” (28), they exploited them. Sexual morals also loosened; infidelity increased as people lusted after the wives of others (8).

Their stubborn, rebellious hearts rendered them insensitive to the ways of God (21) and the glory of God. They became fools who did not know God and even suppressed His truth in unrighteousness (see Romans 1). They no longer trembled at His works or His word: His power in setting a boundary for the ocean waves (22); His ability to send or withhold the “autumn and spring rains in season” (24, 25); His ability to dispatch the armies of Babylon to invade and destroy them (15).

The chapter ends with a description of something “horrible and shocking” (30-31). “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” They are so spiritually insensitive and rebellious that they prefer falsehood to truth and human authority to God’s authority. As the apostle Paul would later put it, they want their ears tickled and choose to turn away from truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

heartTheir “stubborn and rebellious hearts” (23) would bring God’s wrath upon the nation. Twice in this chapter we hear the Lord say, “Should I not punish them for this? Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?” (9, 29). He had already sent some level of discipline upon them; He had “struck” and “crushed” them (3). But they had only become “harder than stone” (3). So now the Lord would bring the Babylonia armies to devour  their harvests and food, sons and daughters, flocks and herds, vines and fig trees (17).

In verse 10, the Lord declares of Israel: “these people do not belong to the Lord.” This seems to allude to the basic covenant phrase: “You will be my people and I will be your God.” The nation had broken the covenant through their infidelity—swearing falsely in His name (2) and swearing by other gods (7). They had become “utterly unfaithful” (11). By becoming utterly unfaithful, Israel had broken their side of the covenant and would now experience the covenant curses laid out in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26—including invasion from foreign powers and exile. “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your own land, so now you will serve foreigners in a land not your own” (19).

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 4)

chapter 4“For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction” (4:6).

Chapter 4 is an extended announcement/warning of the coming devastation that will be inflicted by Babylonian armies on the cities and people of Judea (particularly on Jerusalem) as the consequence of their sin against God and His judgment upon them. The army is His arm; the destruction is His discipline. The military defeat is the consequence of a spiritual defeat. The nation’s ruin results from their rebellion.

Jeremiah 4 draws a clear link between disobedience and devastation. “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good” (22). “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you” (18). God expects His people to remain faithful to Him. When they persist in rebellious disobedience, He warns of impending judgment. If the warnings are disregarded, his “wrath will break out and burn like fire” (4). In this case, His wrath was expressed in His sending the Babylonian armies to devastate the land (5-8).

babylonWhile the Babylonian (Chaldean) army is not seen by historians as impressive as its Assyrian predecessor, it was still formidable and powerful. The Assyrians had been the innovators for military equipment (jackboots rather than sandals) and tactics (siege ramps, blending cavalry and foot soldiers). The Babylonians would have learned from them and imitated their approaches. The Assyrians had used terror tactics as part of their approach to subduing people; undoubtedly, future armies of other nations took note.

For a small kingdom like Judah, the power of these northern armies was overwhelming. Their only defense was to flee the smaller cities, hiding in the surrounding “thickets and rocks” (4:29) or heading to the “fortified cities” (4:5), most notably Jerusalem (4:6). But this would only prolong the agony and delay the ultimate defeat.

A repeated theme in this chapter comes in God’s pronouncement that the military invasion and devastation of the land is His doing:

 “For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction” (6).

“Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant…for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us” (7-8).

“A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me” (11-12).

“A besieging army is coming form a distant land…because she has rebelled against me…” (16-17).

“I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all it towns lay in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger” (25-26).

Here we see that events in history can have both a human explanation and a divine causation. On one level, the Babylonians attacked Judah for reasons that made sense from a human history perspective (Judah’s rebellion against their rule, a desire to conquer neighbouring countries, etc). But on a deeper level, God was moving the Babylonian leaders and military to carry out His judgment on His people. God was taking credit for what the Babylonians would do.

So are we to read His judgment into the personal or national events that impact us? Possibly, but not necessarily. In Isaiah 54:15, the Lord says to His people: “If anyone does attack you it will not be my doing….” Paul’s reaction to the hard-hearted rejection he was experiencing from the believers in Corinth was not to assume it was God’s judgment on him for some failure or sin on his part; rather, he appeals to them to stop listening to the wrong voices and reopen their hearts to him (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). In other words, at both the micro and macro level, rejection and opposition is not always “from God.” However, it can be, as seen here in Jeremiah 4.

fallowWhat response did God want from His people? He wanted them to “return” (4:1). This return is described in poetic terms in verses 3-4: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among the thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts.” The change must begin in the heart. The heart must become like good soil—plowed up and weeded so it can produce a crop of righteousness. The heart must be circumcised, a theme that Paul picks up on in Romans 2:29. Repentance, which will show itself in outward actions, must begin with a change of heart.

God makes it clear that if His people will respond, repent and return, the nations will be blessed by and drawn to Him. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory” (1-2). God’s plan is that His people be a blessing to the Gentiles (Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 67; Romans 11:11-15).

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Prayer Update May 31, 2018

This weekend, Linda and I are at the national conference for the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada (AGC).  This will be a historic gathering as the AGC says thank you to its outgoing president (Bill Fietji) and welcomes its new president (Bill Allan).

I have the joy of preaching at this conference, bringing a series of messages from John 15 on the theme of Abiding.  Linda and I are also leading a workshop on the important topic of Soul Care.abide

We would ask to you pray that the Lord would allow us to have a fruitful ministry (John 15:7-8) through teaching His Word.

35At the close of the conference, we will take some time to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary (June 4th).  God has been so faithful to us over the thirty-five years we’ve been married.  I’m grateful that He provided me with a wife who has been my best friend and faithful partner in life and ministry.

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 3)

chapter 3In this chapter, God speaks to Israel and Judah using the language of marriage, infidelity, divorce and restoration.  The marriage metaphor runs throughout the chapter, comparing God as a husband and Israel and Judah as his two faithless brides.  The idea of God having two wives seems awkward, perhaps emphasizing that the splitting of God’s people into two groups (Israel—northern kingdom; Judah—southern kingdom) was never His will for them.  In fact, God envisions a time (“At that time”—vs. 17; “In those days”—vs. 18) when the two nations come together as His one people (“In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance”—3:18).

marriageThe chapter opens with a statement that echoes Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  God speaks of a man divorcing his wife who leaves and marries another. After this remarriage, a reunion of the original marriage would leave the land “completely defiled” (3:1).  In verse 8 God speaks of giving “faithless Israel her certificate of divorce” and sending her away because of her adulteries.  However, the chapter never speaks of either Israel or Judah being remarried to another god.  Instead, the language God uses accuses both Israel and Judah of playing the prostitute (3:1-2, 13) and committing adultery (3:6, 8-9, 20).  In this sense God could still take His unfaithful people back to himself without leaving the land “completely defiled.”  He could institute a “new covenant” to replace the broken marriage covenant (Mosaic covenant).

The imagery of marriage, adultery, prostitution, lovers and “scattering your favours” (13) helps us understand the kind of relationship God envisions and desires to have with His people.  He wants closeness, intimacy, exclusivity and fidelity.  The breach of this marriage covenant is scandalous and embarrassing; God is the jilted, broken-hearted, wounded husband.

Both Israel and Judah are indicted for their spiritual adultery (3:6-10). Israel is pictured as having being “faithless” and wayward first.  God dealt with her by giving Israel “her certificate of divorce” and sending her away (into exile).  Amazingly, Judah watched this and still followed the same path.  Only, to make matters more galling, Judah added hypocrisy to her adultery:  “…Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense” (3:10). This may be a reference to what was happening in the time of good king Josiah (vs. 6).  Josiah exerted his kingly influence to tear down the idols and gather the people to reconfirm the covenant.  Sadly, this seems to have been more of an external show than an internal reality.  Pretense, not heart.  Leaders can only do so much for people!

A number of phrases are used to capture the spiritual immorality of God’s people.

“you do all the evil you can”(5)

“you have not obeyed me” (13, 25)

“you have been unfaithful to me” (20)

“[they] have forgotten the Lord their God”(21)

The most common, repeated descriptors of God’s people in this chapter are “faithless” (3, 8. 11, 12, 14, 22) and “unfaithful” (7, 8, 10, 11, 20).  Those who are faithless become unfaithful.  They lose their “fear” of the Lord (8) and “forget” him (21).  The result is that the Lord “frowns” (12) on His people—a statement that is far more serious than it sounds.  The Hebrew text literally reads: “cause (Hiphil) my face to fall upon you.”  The verb (fall) usually carries the idea of something falling down, sometimes violently.  Here God’s face falls—His smile turns to a frown or worse.  This falling countenance is a metaphor for his displeasure and distress, which translates into His discipline.

All these indictments can, in a sense, be traced to one primary charge:  God’s people had “no fear” of Him (8).  No reverence.  No sense of foreboding.  No shaking at the thought of His power and authority.  No sense of awe (“you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me”—2:19). Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.”

In addition to a deep love for God, which moves us not to sin and break His heart, we need a deep fear of God which moves us not to sin and come under His wrath. His covenantal love (pictured in the marriage covenant) is the basis for His tender mercies and His jealous anger.

Three times in this chapter God speaks of the people’s flagrant sin as “defiling the land” (1, 2, 9).  The land God gave them was called the Holy Land as it was the place of God’s presence and His dwelling (“Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy ground). This is one reason for the exile—God’s land cannot contain or sustain a unfaithful, backslidden (3:22), brazen and shameless (3:3) people.

welcome backIn spite of this grievous infidelity, God repeatedly invites the people of Israel to return to Him:  “’Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband’” (3:14). “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding (3:22).”  He promises to provide them with leaders (shepherds) “after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (15).  Here we see the enduring love of God reaching out to people who have wounded His heart and broken His covenant.  How merciful and gracious He is towards us.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 2)

chatper 2In Jeremiah 2 we start to get the picture of the spiritual condition of the nation. It’s not a pretty picture at all. Themes that will be traced and developed throughout the book are introduced here:  Israel’s infidelity to the LORD, Israel’s trust in foreign powers (Egypt, Assyria) and foreign gods, Israel’s barrenness and brokenness (politically, economically), Israel’s self-righteousness (questioning God’s indictment of their spiritual apostasy and claiming innocence) and Israel’s future judgment.

Jeremiah speaks God’s message to the nation in a way that highlights, repeats and explains God’s amazement and anger at what has been happening.  The nation (starting with its leaders—2:8, 26) has forsaken its early devotion to Him (2:1), exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11), proclaimed their innocence  in spite of their overt, obvious defection (2:35).

The chapter brims with emotion and provocative, colourful imagery:  Israel as a devoted bride (2:1), Israel as a rebellious servant (2:20),  Israel as stained and dirty by their sin (2:22),  Israel as a wild donkey in heat (2:24),  Israel as a disgraced thief caught red-handed (2:26),  Israel as a seasoned prostitute (2:33).

The basic message of chapter 2 is the indictment that Judah (all Israel)—without  any cause and in spite of God’s faithful goodness—has committed spiritual adultery. They have forsaken their devotion to Him and run into the arms of others (other nations and other gods).  brokenThey have done what no other nation has done—switched their spiritual loyalties (2:10-11).  The folly of this suicidal switch is that Israel has traded the “spring of living waters” for “broken cisterns” (2:13) and foreign rivers (2:18).

Twice, the Lord rebukes them for failing to ask, “Where is the Lord?”  The fathers did not ask this question (2:6), nor did the priests (2:8).  The question (“Where is the Lord?”) in this context is not meant to convey a sense of doubt and disbelief about God’s presence or reality. Rather, in both verses, it is meant to express a desire to seek the Lord and find His will and ways.  The parallel line in verse 8 reads, “Those who deal with the law did not know me.”  The connotation of the question would thus be, “Where does the Lord stand on this matter?” Faithful believers should always be thinking and asking, “Where is God on this matter?  What’s His will?  What’s His word to us?”

There are two ways to ask the question, “Where is the Lord?” It can be asked as an expression of doubt (Micah 7:10) or as an expression of faith (Jeremiah 2:6, 8). It can be a taunt, a statement of ridicule and disbelief.  Or it can be a call to seek God, to discover where He stands on an issue or situation. God wants us to be seeking His presence and will, asking “Where is the Lord?” on every issue we face.  As Psalm 105:4 says, “Look to the Lord and His strength.  Seek His face always.”

aweWhy has Judah made such a foolish and devastating spiritual choice?  A root cause of their rebellion is that they “have no awe of me, declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (2:19).  The Hebrew word for “awe” speaks of terror or dread.  This response of holy fear is fitting for those who encounter “the LORD Almighty” (the God of armies).  As we seek and see God in His awesome majesty and power, we should be moved to “awe” by His authority and greatness.

The story line of chapter 2 is that of the nation’s descent from devotion to desertion.  Their initial devotion—pictured as a bride’s love for her groom (2:1-2; 32)—dies away. This tragic shift of affection and allegiance happens in spite of God’s goodness to His people; He led them through deserts and darkness (2:6) and gave them a fertile land rich with produce (2:7). He protected them from their adversaries (2:3).  They had it so good.  Yet, against all logic, contrary to all cultural patterns (2:10), they exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11).  God summarizes their twin evils:  “My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).

This stunning defection was not simply a grassroots movement; the top leaders of the nation (kings, officials, priests and prophets—2:8, 26) led the way into darkness.  They became enamored with other gods and engaged in alliances with other nations (Egypt and Assyria—2:18, 36).  They went from being a devoted bride to becoming a spiritual prostitute (2:33).

To make matters worse, they claim innocence.  Caught red handed and disgraced as a thief (2:26), they deny their guilty actions. They protest, saying, “I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals” (2:23); “I am innocent; he is not angry with me” (2:35). They also continue to call on God to get them out of trouble:  “Come and save us!” (2:27).

The tone of the chapter is one of shocked, stunned disbelief. How could God’s people be so foolish and fickle?  How could they turn their backs (2:27) on the One who loved them? How could they run after such poor substitutes? How could they become spiritually disloyal when the nations around them remained loyal to their false gods?  How could this defection have been so widespread—kings, priests, prophets and people? prone 2

There is a tale here of something tragically wrong in the hearts of God’s people. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” There is something twisted, sick and suicidal in us as humans.  Something that can only be changed by a change of heart—exactly what is promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

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