Ending or Beginning?

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 49:29 – 50:26, “Ending or Beginning?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where one thing ends and another begins. Typically books are more clear-cut, the end of one often coming at the words “The End,” on the page…but sometimes the story goes on. Such is the case with many books of the Bible, particularly the five books of Moses (the Penteteuch).

When studying any passage of Scripture, it’s important to look at both the previous and following context (what came before, and what comes after). In this particular case, what came before is the entire book of Genesis, and what comes after is the entire book of Exodus. With the end of the lives of Jacob and Joseph, what is on display is not only the previous work of God in forming a people for Himself, but a glimpse looking forward to the day that this people becomes a nation, moving forward to the Promised Land (all in anticipation of the Messiah).

So let’s back up. What has led us to this point? Through an act of His will, God created the entire universe, giving life to mankind, and everything was good…until it wasn’t. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, and all of creation fell with them, to which God promised a Savior who would right everything that went wrong: the Seed of the Woman, to be brought forth in future generations. Genesis detailed the family lineage of that Seed (the Messiah) all the way through the worldwide destruction from the global flood, up until the singular calling of a single man whom God knew would walk by faith: Abraham. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he trusted the word of God, Who made him a unfaltering covenant promise of a land, a people, and a Messiah. Genesis 12:1–3, “(1) Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. (2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Over the course of time, God’s promise would vary a bit in wording, but the essence of it was given to the father (Abraham), repeated to the son (Isaac), and repeated again to the grandson (Jacob). This was the family who would bring a blessing (the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman) to the entire world, and this family would be given a permanent home and grow into an innumerable people.

Because this was the promise of God (repeated promise, at that!), it was certain & sure. Nothing would change God’s mind nor His word. Not the imperfections of this family (though there were many), nor the trials of the world. God would use all of these things to bring about His perfect will, which was exampled in the life of Joseph. The second-youngest son of Jacob/Israel, Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his ten older brothers, only to have that tragedy turn into triumph as God elevated Joseph to being 2nd in command of all Egypt, thus able to save his family from a terrible famine that threatened to destroy God’s chosen people from the face of the earth. God had delivered His people as an act of grace, in spite of their sin, and God even used their sin as the instrument of His deliverance. The work of God is amazing!

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, it does so by not only concluding the narratives of Jacob and Joseph, but looking forward to God’s promises to this family of Abraham. At the time, the clad of Israel was alive, but living outside of the Promised Land. What would happen in the future? Would God’s promises remain true? Yes, and both Jacob and Joseph knew it! They trusted the promises of God, and knew by faith that God is powerful and sovereign enough to see His will done, despite circumstances that could be seen.

Trust the promises of God! What He says, He will do. Of that, we can be sure!

Genesis 49:29–33

  • Israel’s last request (29-33)

29 Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.”

  1. Jacob/Israel was well aware of impending death. Although he hadn’t lived to the age of his father or grandfather, he knew his time had come, and he made his final preparations by informing his sons of his final wishes. (There is basic wisdom here! Don’t leave your family guessing.) No one wants to die, but there is an upside to the realization that death might be soon: we prepare. Few things get a person to think about eternity than the thought of seeing God face-to-face, and Jacob was getting ready for that day.
    1. We don’t all know when we’re going to die, but we all know that we are going to die. The time to prepare isn’t the future; it’s now. Are you ready? If you were to see the Lord God tonight, what would you say? Better yet, what would He say to you? Be prepared!
  2. Interestingly, as Jacob prepared to die, he demonstrated his trust in God’s promise. How so? Because he wasn’t looking at Egypt, but to his possession in the Promised Land. Obviously, Jacob knew he would not be alive to walk around in the land of Canaan, but he knew that was the place promised him by God. That was the place where he wanted his burial – the place where future generations would remember him. Egypt may have been a place of sojourning, but that sojourn was temporary. God promised him the land that had been shown to Abraham, and that was where Jacob/Israel wanted to be.
    1. We also live in a place of temporary sojourning. This world is not our home; heaven is! Live with your real place of residence in mind…
  3. Jacob had a family connection with the land, knowing that it was the burial place of his parents and grandparents. It would be his burial place as well, along with his last remaining wife, Leah. (Rachel had died years earlier, and buried near Bethlehem.) The family connection was important, as it was the reminder of the family covenant he had with God. Again, this was Jacob trusting in God’s promise. He might need to be carried out of Egypt in a wooden box, but he knew God’s word would prove true!

33 And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

  1. Jacob was 147 years old when he died (Gen 47:28). Of all the patriarchs, he perhaps had the roughest experiences coming to faith in the Lord, but he certainly died full of faith. He “was gathered to his people,” being reunited with his loved ones in death as he trusted the promises and person of the Living God.

Genesis 50

  • Israel’s burial (1-14)

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

  1. Although Jacob was not an Egyptian, Joseph commanded the Egyptian custom of embalming for his father. It seems that Joseph believed this to be necessary in order to accommodate his father’s wishes. Not only was it a high honor generally bestowed only upon Egyptian royalty or other high officials, but if Jacob’s body was to be transported along the roads between Egypt and Canaan without the stench of decomposition, something needed to be done. Typically, Hebrews would allow bodies to decompose in a tomb, only many months later to open the tomb, and gather the bones into an ossuary for permanent storage. This would have been impossible in Jacob’s circumstance, which is perhaps why Joseph ordered the embalming (mummification) beyond the idea of honor.
  2. There’s some question whether the mourning lasted 70 days, or 110 days (40+70) total. Either way, it was more than what was required for the custom. All of this points to the high honor bestowed upon Jacob/Israel, not only by his immediate family, but by the entire nation of Egypt. And think of the irony: the Egyptians mourned a Hebrew shepherd, normally considered an abomination (Gen 46:34). That was the impact Israel made upon Egypt!
    1. As Christians, we may not be mourned by the unbelieving people around us, but may we make an impact upon them! May they see our lives, hear our words, and know without a shadow of doubt that we are servants of the Most High God!

4 Now when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’ ” 6 And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

  1. Joseph, his family, and the Egyptians had mourned well over two months for Israel (perhaps closer to four!), but things didn’t end there; Jacob still had to be buried in Canaan. And for that, Joseph needed to acquire permission from Pharaoh to go. Interestingly, it seems that Joseph did not speak directly to Pharaoh, although he was the grand vizier (prime minister) of the nation. It’s possible that by this point a different Pharaoh sat on the throne, and Joseph did not have the same political position (although still a trusted advisor), but it seems more likely that due to Joseph’s state of mourning, it would have been inappropriate for him to approach Pharaoh directly. Recall that when Joseph was first pulled from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he had to be shaved and clean (Gen 41:14). Due to his mourning for his father, Joseph probably allowed his beard to grow, thus prohibiting a face-to-face conversation with the Egyptian king.
  2. Whatever the reason for passing along his request to Pharaoh via the royal house, Joseph made him a promise. Actually, there were two promises made: (1) from Joseph to his father, and (2) from Joseph to Pharaoh. Earlier, Joseph had made a solemn oath to Jacob that he would ensure Jacob’s burial in Canaan (Gen 47:31), and now Joseph promised that if Pharaoh allowed him to travel, that he would quickly return to Egypt. Joseph’s reputation had never been in doubt in the past, but his faithfulness is shown here, yet again. Since he was keeping his word to his father, he would surely keep his word to his king. (Likewise, we ought to be men & women of our word! Let your yes be yes, and your no be no; Mt 5:37) 

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering.

  1. Of note is how many Egyptians were in attendance for Jacob’s funeral. No doubt, much of this was due to support of Joseph, being the high official he was in the court of Pharaoh, but it seems that this was a full-court press. Everyone was there with the exception of Pharaoh himself. Again, it’s striking how many prominent Egyptians joined in the mourning of this Hebrew shepherd. They viewed him as highly blessed by God, partly due to his age & partly due to his parenting of Joseph. They had multiple opportunities to witness his life with their own eyes as Jacob resided in Egypt, and whatever it was Jacob did among them, it left an impact. Although there’s no indication that this generation of Egyptians came to faith, it was certainly a witness of God among them.
    1. This is how Jesus tells us to live: Matthew 5:14–16, “(14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Words are incredibly important, but as the cliché states: actions speak louder than words. Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s not that we should do as what is often attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words if necessary.” Words are necessary to the gospel, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). But human words without action are just noise. People need to not only hear of our faith, but see it in action as well. When they witness our sincere love & worship of God, our love for our fellow Christians, and our compassion upon the lost world around us, they will not be able to deny the transformation that has taken place in our lives through the work of Jesus Christ.
  2. Of course, not only were there many Egyptians, but there were many Hebrews present as well. The grand patriarch of their clan had passed, and everyone who was physically able to travel to Canaan for the funeral, did. It was a massive convoy of people from Egypt to the Jordan River – a mixture of Hebrew and Egyptian together. (A miniature preview of what would follow in 400 years’ time, when the nation of Israel and the mixed multitude of Egypt began their Exodus!) 
  3. In light of Exodus, there’s an interesting contrast with Moses. In one of his numerous interactions with Pharaoh, Moses was told by Pharaoh that the Hebrew men could go into the wilderness to worship God, but not the children or their flocks, which Moses promptly refused. (Exo 10:9) With the funeral, the children and flocks stayed behind. Why? It wasn’t yet time for the family of Israel to leave Egypt. Keep in this in mind for later…

10 Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

  1. Where was the “threshing floor of Atad / Abel Mizraim”? The text is a bit ambiguous. Usually “beyond the Jordan” is an indication of the Transjordan region, on the east side of the Jordan river. At the same time, it seems necessary for the threshing floor to be rather close to the cave of Machpelah. A couple of different thoughts are suggested: (1) “beyond” could be translated “edge,” meaning that the threshing floor was simply close to the river banks of the Jordan. (2) If Joseph and the convoy took a similar route as Moses & Joshua, then they would have approached the Jordan from the east, needing to cross over it to the west, making it “beyond” the river. Either way, if we have difficulty identifying the precise location, it was certainly known by the people at the time. The convoy that arrived was huge. This was a big deal, attracting much attention! The location was even renamed by the locals. “Abel Mizraim” literally = “Mourning of Egypt.” The arrival of Joseph and the other made a lasting impact!
  2. That was the entry point into Canaan; it wasn’t the final destination. There was even more mourning that took place at this gathering place, and it was only after that time that the convoy continued to the burial cave.

12 So his sons did for him just as he had commanded them. 13 For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place. 14 And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father.

  1. The family followed through on Jacob’s last request. Jacob was buried in the precise cave he specified, the one belonging by purchase deed to his family. Bottom line, Jacob was finally back in the Promised Land.
  2. Afterward, Joseph kept his promise to Pharaoh & returned to Egypt. Question: Why? This was Joseph’s chance to be home! If the family of Israel had taken all of their children and flocks with them, they could have returned to the land of Canaan and avoided 400 years of slavery. This was the land that God had specifically & repeatedly promised to them, and the 7 years of famine had long-ended by this point. Why go back to Egypt – what was the need? Answer: the famine may have ended, but God’s timing for His people wasn’t yet right. There were other promises and purposes that needed to be fulfilled. God made this clear to Abraham two generations earlier: Genesis 15:13–16, “(13) Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. (14) And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”” God spoke this to Abraham right at the same time that God promised Abraham a physical heir to come from his body, Abraham believed unto righteousness, and God made a one-sided covenant promise to him. God affirmed that Abraham’s future descendants would indeed have the land of the Canaanites and Amorites as their home, but before they would receive it, they would dwell outside of it being afflicted. Their affliction had a specific expiration date: 400 years. Why? Because that was the time it would take for the Amorites to fill up on the full measure of their guilt. God was giving this pagan people clear opportunity to repent of their sins, while knowing they would not do it, and the Hebrew people would serve as God’s own instrument of judgment when they finally returned from Egypt. In other words, the 400 years was time enough (1) for Israel to truly grow beyond a clan into a full nation of their own, with their own ethnic identity, and (2) for both God’s mercy and judgment to be displayed to the then-current inhabitants of the land, the Amorites. If Joseph and his brothers had returned to Canaan at the time of Jacob’s funeral, none of that would have happened. God’s timing was perfect for God’s plan, so God had to be trusted.
    1. It’s no different with us. How many times have you found yourself trying to rush the plans of God? Perhaps you have an inkling of what God has in mind for you, but instead of waiting on God to bring it to pass, you resort to your own efforts to get things moving. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, nor the last…but it never works out. God’s work has to be done by God’s power in God’s time, which all assures it is according to God’s will & word, for God’s glory. Wait upon the Lord! By all means, actively proceed with what He has given you, but do not push to do things according to your will & your timing. When it’s right, God will let you know, and you’ll rejoice in how it glorifies Him!

So ends the account of Jacob/Israel – truly the end of an era in the history of God’s people. His sons realized this as well, and feared that things might not work out too well for them…

  • Joseph’s grace (15-21)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.”

  1. The ten older brothers were worried about retribution, perhaps justifiably so. Joseph had a special relationship with their father, and would never have done anything to cause him grief. But with Jacob dead, their “buffer” was gone. Perhaps this would be the time Joseph would seek revenge.
  2. Note: If Joseph had done so, the brothers understood they deserved it. For perhaps the first time in all the years they had been in Egypt, they openly acknowledged their act of evil. Joseph had never restrained himself from talking about it how it was (Gen 45:5), and Jacob had been informed of the evil at some point (Gen 49:23), but Genesis does not record a direct personal confession of the ten brothers. Finally, it’s spoken aloud. What they did to Joseph was truly “evil,” and there was no excuse for it.
    1. Confession doesn’t make excuses for sin; it calls it by its name. Too often, we want to relabel things: lying is “my own truth,” theft is “what I was owed,” lust is “just being human,” etc. The ten brothers could have said, “Yes, what we did to Joseph was wrong, but we didn’t have a choice…” There are no “buts” when it comes to sin. Sin is simply sin – it’s evil – it’s rebellion against God – it is the reason Jesus died upon the cross. When God brings conviction to our hearts, the proper response is clear confession. Agree with God that it is what it is & that you need the forgiveness and cleansing of Jesus…and the promise is He will give it! (1 Jn 1:9)

16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” …

  1. Question: Was this a truth or a lie? Had Jacob really said this in his last days? Technically, we don’t know, as this is unsaid in Genesis. Perhaps there is an implication that this was a lie, or at least an embellishment on behalf of the brothers.
  2. Either way, the idea of forgiveness is very In the Greek New Testament, the idea of forgiveness is often that of “release;” in the Hebrew here, it’s similar: “lift up / take away.” Whatever guilt Joseph had the right to press against his brothers, he is asked to graciously lift off their shoulders. Their crimes are labeled three different ways: trespass, sin, and evil – no holds barred in calling it what it was…but the request was to take it all away. Not because they deserved it, but because they served “the God of your father.” The brothers weren’t owed forgiveness in the slightest (the deserved vengeful justice); it was only because of God that forgiveness was asked.
    1. Forgiveness works no differently today. Why do we not hold the trespasses of others against us? Because of Jesus’ sake! [Parable of Unforgiving Servant] Matthew 18:32–33, “(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” How can we withhold from others what Jesus has so freely given us? We don’t forgive others because they deserve it; we forgive them because we didn’t deserve it either, yet Jesus still granted it!

… And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

  1. Yet another fulfillment of Joseph’s initial dreams. (Number 5?)
  2. The brothers were humble, and Joseph was soft-hearted for his family. He wept and demonstrated his own humility, acknowledging his own dependence upon the Lord…

19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

  1. Right here is the primary theme of the entire Joseph narrative! From Genesis 37 forward, this is the theological statement that is so clearly made. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” What the brothers did to Joseph was sin, plain & simple. It was trespass, sin, and evil (50:17), with no excuse whatsoever made for their actions. But their evil was overcome by God’s good. Just like the evil that took place in the Garden of Eden was overcome by the good promise of God’s Savior, so was the evil done unto Joseph overcome by God’s plan of salvation for the family of Israel. Jacob’s family had been in danger, not just from 7 years of famine, but from being assimilated into the culture of the Canaanites and Amorites. If Jacob’s family was in danger, then the promise of the Messiah was in danger…and that endangers everything! God had known and foreseen all of this from before the foundation of the world, and His plan perfectly accounted for it, using even the terrible sin of the brothers as an instrument to accomplish God’s perfect good. Both actions were “” The ten brothers did intentional evil to Joseph, but God used the brothers’ evil for intentional good. (God’s will, will always be done!)
    1. What was Joseph acknowledging? God is sovereign! There is no situation or circumstance that can undo or undermine God’s perfect will. This isn’t to say that we are mere robots, with no inclination of freewill, or no real choice over our actions. That is clearly not the case. God tells us not to sin, yet we sin. In order for rebellion to exist, there must be ability to rebel, which we plainly possess. But as true as that may be, the Bible is also clear that there is nothing we do that is beyond God’s power – there is no choice we can make that He has not already foreseen and planned – there is no act of our will that does not ultimately lead to the perfect will of God as He enacted from eons before Creation. God is sovereign! He is powerful enough to give us freewill, and powerful enough to still enact His perfect will over our freewill. 
    2. And this ought to bring much comfort! God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that ought to trouble us; it’s one in which we ought to rejoice! Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” All too often, this is a verse quoted out of context at inappropriate times (such as offering cold truth when we ought to be weeping with those who weep). But used rightly, this is a truth of gold! There is nothing outside of the ability of God to be used for His glory in the lives of His children. “All things” mean “all things” – even the worst crimes against us and other Christians around the world. Those things (by definition) are not good, but God works them for His good. And because He does, we can rest in that fact! His sovereignty offers us tremendous peace.
  2. It was because of Joseph’s trust of God’s sovereignty that Joseph could so quickly offer forgiveness to his brothers. He gave them both mercy and grace. Mercy = no revenge. Grace = provision. He didn’t have to give them anything except prison; instead, he offered wonderful gifts out of compassion. He “spoke kindly” to them – literally meaning that he spoke to their hearts. He knew their need, and he graciously met it. Joseph knew the Almighty Living God, and because he did, he could leave all things in His hands.
  • Joseph’s last days (22-26)

22 So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees.

  1. Joseph’s final days were blessed in Egypt, being able to see his grandchildren to the third generation. All in all, Joseph lived 93 years in the land of Egypt, but it never was his home. He knew it, and he looked forward to the future and the fulfillment of God’s promises…

24 And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

  1. The Hebrew grammar is of note: there’s an emphasis on God’s act of visiting (the infinitive absolute). God would surely keep His promises, and come to them (so to speak). They were His people, and He had appointed for them a day of deliverance, with there being no doubt He would keep His appointment!
  2. God never forgets His people – He never forgets His promises! As grand as this is regarding the temporal promises of God (promises for wisdom for those who ask, peace for those who pray, etc.), how much better this is regarding His eternal promise of salvation through Jesus Christ! Has Jesus forgiven those of us who have faith in Him? Surely, yes! There is no condemnation for those in Christ, and nothing (height nor depth nor any created thing) can separate us from Him & His love! Trust Him – rest in Him. What He says, He does, guaranteed!

25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

  1. Like his father, Joseph also desired to be buried in the Promised Land, although he doesn’t specify that he be buried in the same family burial tomb in Machpelah. (Jacob is later buried in Shechem, after Joshua leads the people in conquest of the Promised Land – Josh 24:32.)
  2. Joseph had faith that God would get him there…and God did!

Conclusion:

The book of Genesis ends with two deaths, but it really ends with the promise of life. The people of God were in Egypt, but God would not leave them there indefinitely. There was a new beginning on the way. There was a promise of deliverance, and faith that God would accomplish it. The children of Israel had a covenant guarantee of a future home and a future Messiah, and God would see it done. And He did, because God is always true to His word.

Trust the promises of God!

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