Not Just a Name

In Psalm 97 David continues the regnal theme, beginning once more with the emphatic exultation, “The LORD reigns,” but rather than appealing to the Israelites to announce this to the nations against the futility of their paganism, the whole earth now has reason to rejoice in recognizing the LORD’s reign (Psa. 97:1). Building on the imagery of Sinai as did the Song of Deborah (Ex. 19:16-18; Jdg. 5:4-5), he declares the LORD’s righteous judgment, sure victory, and powerful presence (Psa. 97:2-5).  However, this declaration from above shines forth to all (Psa. 97:6) with such force that it offers evidence to pagan idolaters of their error and provides impetus for the angelic throng to worship (Psa. 97:7). Israel also responds to the LORD’s will (Psa. 97:8) in recognition of His exaltation (Psa. 97:9). Thus having established His worthiness to reign and the expanse of His kingdom in a reign built on righteousness, he turns his attention to the subjects of the kingdom. Describing them in essence by their love for the LORD, he follows with an unexpected contrast: “hate evil!” (Psa. 97:10). The powerful contrast of love and hate adds immediate strength to other implied contrasts between the LORD and evil. However, the exhortation of responsibility holds manifold blessings as well, because the LORD will then deliver and preserve His people (Psa. 97:10). Therefore, the righteous and upright have reason to hope (Psa. 97:11), reasons to rejoice, and reasons to give thanks when they recall what the LORD has done (Psa. 97:12).

Taken generically, all of this sounds pleasing to the godly ear, but the placement of the psalm and the nuances of the text offer far more than general encouragement, and this becomes clear upon considering Hebrews 1:6, “But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Heb. 1:6), a quotation of Psalm 97:7 identifying without question the “gods” as angels and the “Him” as Jesus Himself. Therefore, just as the previous psalm anticipated the crowning of Jesus as King, so also does Psalm 97 anticipate the time when the Son of God would reign. This, then, formed the foundation of the psalm’s promised blessings, of the reason to hope, rejoice, and give thanks. Jesus’ incarnation and sacrifice offered exactly what the world needed, Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 3:23). Thus, the deliverance and preservation He made possible transcend this life and extend into eternity. The message announced with the imagery of the Old Covenant is the New Covenant which supplanted it, a covenant for Jew and Gentile alike. Most of all, the One who came, the One who reigns, the One who saves, and the One worthy of angelic worship is none other than Yahweh Himself. Encased in a simple psalm extolling the virtues and majesty of the one true God, the Holy Spirit placed the seed to demonstrate the deity of the Son of God. While the subtleties of the text kept the full meaning dormant for centuries, the simple reality of Jesus and the gospel proves not only the beauty of the Davidic hope but its true force as well.


The Glory Due His Name

During the early portion of David’s reign, he wanted to bring the ark of the covenant, and therefore Israel’s tabernacle worship, to Jerusalem. While originally unsuccessful due to the improper manner of transportation, eventually David saw his dream realized, and the priests placed the ark in the most holy place of the tabernacle on one of the hills of Jerusalem near David’s own dwelling. This proximity likely appealed to David, as one who enjoyed worshipping the LORD. However, as the beautiful expression he penned in Psalm 96 demonstrates, this united proximity of the throne of David and the worship of God provided the context for an appreciation for the Kingship of God that Israel consistently failed to accept and that promised even greater things for the future.

The new location of the ark created new possibilities for Israel, and yet it was important to see them spiritually. Indeed, freshness of spirit, a recognition of the covenant relationship God has made possible, and an understanding of His universal worthiness ought to motivate our worship at any time (Psa. 96:1). Thus motivated, worship becomes an opportunity to declare what God has done with a heart of thankfulness that extends beyond the moment to affect the heart daily (Psa. 96:2). Worship should change us, but it can only do so when we change how we worship. Any true conviction concerning God’s greatness cannot simply dwell within but swells up within until nothing can contain it, simply from reflecting on all that God has done and responding to Him in accordance with His will (Psa. 96:3). This is no emotional hype because our dedication and devotion to and our reverence for our God rest not on a blind faith nor on an unintellectual hope. It finds ground in the reality of His being, the truth of His character, and the power of His essence (Psa. 96:4). Therefore, our God is no crutch rooted in the imagination of the desperate; He is the Creator of the universe upon whom all depend, whether they realize it or not (Psa. 96:5). He reigns as divine royalty, with all the accompanying honors; more than that, He combines the leadership of a general and the splendor of a king while ruling on a throne that sits within a temple dedicated to His honor (Psa. 96:6). The LORD, thus enthroned, deserves all that His creation has to give, a recognition of all that He has done and can do that leads us to offer our obeisance, our allegiance, and our all as we enter His presence to worship (Psa. 96:7-8). Therefore, we must prepare ourselves for His presence accordingly, dressing ourselves in the robes of holiness as we humbly approach His throne (Psa. 96:9). Then, knowing the LORD, His character, and His will bring forth a confidence in the future that nothing else can approach. The simple knowledge that “The LORD reigns” is sufficient to know that, whatever else may happen upon this earth, righteousness will prevail (Psa. 96:10). This makes joy, gladness, and confidence in life possible, regardless of anything else that might occur (Psa. 96:11-12). The LORD had a plan, a plan to come forth from the abode of His sanctuary to establish His reign unmistakably and thus to rule within righteousness accordingly to the standard of truth (Psa. 96:13).

When David brought the throne of mercy near to his own throne, he never realized the ultimate end God had in mind. But when Jesus came to earth to fulfill the Messianic mission, He, as the standard bearer for the throne of David, established His reign in a kingdom not of this earth (Matt. 16:18-19; John 18:36) by being raised from the dead—not only to rule as the rightful heir of David, but to do so from the throne of mercy existing in heaven itself (Heb. 1:8-9; 9:24-28). How truly worthy God is of our worship, of our devotion, and of our lives! In all that we do, may we ever remember “the glory due His name”!

Losing Focus

A few years ago, when traveling in the northeast for a lectureship in New Hampshire and a gospel meeting in Maryland, my family and I took a detour into a rural area of Pennsylvania outside of Scranton to hike through Ricketts Glenn and see the numerous waterfalls there. Hiking to waterfalls and photographing them has become my favorite hobby in recent years, and I had anticipated this opportunity since originally penciling it into the itinerary. However, earlier that year, a sign of middle age caught up to me and required that I get glasses. (I since have moved on to contact lenses.) Navigating the hike with trifocals proved far more harrowing than I would have imagined, but I ran into a bigger problem that I only realized after it was too late. I had failed to adjust the focus on my camera for wearing a prescription. Despite requiring only a minor correction, this meant that all of my photographs were slightly out of focus unless I relied on the SLR camera’s autofocus feature. Unfortunately, when I tried to check it, I had trouble seeing it properly through my lenses. While this proved a minor annoyance for my recreational memory, it illustrates a far more serious problem many people have in life. Their focus is completely out of focus, and they do not even realize it.

In Psalm 95, quoted in part by the writer of Hebrews, David enjoined everyone to make the LORD the focus of their lives. However, it is not enough to feel like you are focusing on God; your life must reflect that focus through the lens of scripture. As David points out, we should focus on the LORD in life because He is the source of true joy (Psa. 95:1-2), and this focus should come through in our worship and praise—not only in giving our hearts fully over to Him in that moment, but in worshiping in a manner that fully reflects our respect, reverence, and awe for His authority. When we focus on pleasing God and honoring Him, we have found where joy is truly sustainable and not fleeting. But more than that, we should place our focus on the LORD because of His inherent greatness. God created the universe and sustains it, and therefore He owns it. And that includes us (Psa. 95:3-5). Such grandeur and glory deserves all of our attention every minute of every day. Sadly, we often expect God to accept with gratitude the meager leftovers of our time and attention instead of the dedication and deliberation He is due by right of who He is. The LORD should be our focus in life because He alone is worthy of worship (Psa. 95:6-7). We need Him; He does not need us. And yet, do our lives reflect this understanding in the details of our submission to His will? Or do we complain about His precepts and try to insert our own desires willfully into the Scriptures to excuse our own desires? Our focus, our all in life, must be on the LORD, for He alone can deliver us. The Israelites who saw the ten plagues and left Egypt by crossing the Red Sea had every reason for joy but focused only on their hardships. As a result, they hardened their hearts toward God, and God did not allow them to enter the Promised Land (Psa. 95:8-11). Many today do the same. They expect God not only to have provided deliverance but also to remove any requirements of obedience in the process (Jas. 2:24; Acts 2:38; Heb. 5:8-9). Rather than focusing on the salvation He made possible, they somehow take it for granted and therefore actually neglect the pathway provided by God. Many people are going to be lost on Judgment Day (Matt. 7:13-14). Yet, it will not be because they lacked opportunity or even knowledge. It will be because they lost focus.

The Noise of Many Waters

The catastrophic destruction left behind in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath has provoked a renewed appreciation for the force of wind, the power of the ocean, and the accumulative effects of rain. However, the profound revelation of the hearts of people reaching out to help those in need has proven wonderful medicine for a heartsick society. The same people that ignored each other at Walmart a week earlier, the same people that had nothing to say to each other not long ago, found unity and strength together in the midst of tragedy. More than that, this historic storm has provoked Christian hearts to action, to reach out in love to their fellow man and to bind congregations together in bearing the burden of feeding and housing those in need, cleaning and repairing those areas hardest hit, and giving to relieve the burden on those most affected. As noted in Psalm 93, all this is completely appropriate for a people who know the LORD.

The LORD created this world and still reigns over it. Every aspect of creation declares this still. Indeed, creation acts as evidence of His grandeur and His rule. The power and beauty of creation are far more glorious than the ornamentation of Versailles or the throne room of Buckingham Palace. By these things the LORD wears a robe of majesty that shows the power of His rule by the unmoving, unyielding nature of creation itself (Psa. 93:1). Indeed, despite how nature’s destructive forces can wreak havoc on the works of men, they do nothing but confirm the power of God as His creation goes on, seemingly unaffected by the worst that man can handle. In this there is confirmation once more to confess to God, “Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting” (Psa. 93:2). Therefore, no matter what may happen upon this earth, no matter how great the destruction or how great the tragedy, our God still reigns. He is still our King! As such, every word He has spoken is proven true and worth our attention. He is distinct and holy in every way, and everything shows it. He is Yahweh, the One who is and must be, the One who is there for us (Psa. 93:5).

This remains true in the midst of hardship and tragedy as much as it does in times of goodness and plenty. When destruction, famine, or pestilence strike, when disease or misfortune fall upon you, you have a God who is there for you, who cares for you, and who reigns over you and all that you face. The psalmist knew this; he saw it; he felt it. And his words reveal the heart that we ought to share. “The floods have lifted up, O LORD, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves. The LORD on high is mightier Than the noise of many waters, Than the mighty waves of the sea” (Psa. 93:3-4). And let all the church say, “Amen!”

Number Your Days

In our youth we tend to anticipate the future with a sense of certainty that only the naive can possess. As we mature into adulthood, we embrace the challenges before us with fresh eyes and ready energy, but with no experience and little understanding of what lies ahead. Mid-life comes faster upon us than we could ever have expected. The constant drone of responsibility and necessity drown out the earlier thrill of ambition and replace it with the burden of history and reality. As age advances, difficulties of daily living create new challenges, so that as experience, knowledge, and time combine to create wisdom, perspective toward life grows ever more reflective and spiritual. Such we notice in the words of Moses in the prayer recorded for our benefit as Psalm 90.

Perspective about life begins with the realization of just how much man needs God. He provides the place of safety most needed by every soul for all time (Psa. 90:1). While man remains limited, frail, and bound by time, God transcends all of these to provide everything man requires (Psa. 90:2). Indeed, man only gains perspective by contemplating his ultimate demise (Psa. 90:3), all the while remembering that while men pass through life, God’s existence stands above life itself (Psa. 90:4). Generations rise and fall, but God is there through them all (Psa. 90:5-6). Therefore, the perspective man most needs lies in his recognition that God, standing outside of time and above mankind, will also judge every man (Psa. 90:7) for all our sins, whether hidden or advertised (Psa. 90:8). Despite all man’s bluster, everything we do will be judged by God; therefore, we have nothing to boast of in this life but should humbly live realizing what awaits us in the end (Psa. 90:9). This changes how we see life immensely. Whatever time we have upon the earth, it is short and filled with responsibility (Psa. 90:10) because all that we do will be judged by God. Indeed, death itself should be a constant reminder of that reality (Psa. 90:11). This is why we should spend our days focusing on pleasing God and building that perspective in preparation for eternity (Psa. 90:12). However, along with this, God offers yet another layer to the perspective man should have toward life. God cares for man and wants to help (Psa. 90:13). What a comfort this should be for all of life! He will indeed judge us, but He offers His mercy in the meanwhile to give life joy and meaning (Psa. 90:14). In the difficulties we face upon this earth, which He allows, He also promises to be with us and aid us (Psa. 90:15-16). This final promise, this reality built upon God’s character, offers hope in life and beyond, for God loves to bless and longs to help. He will provide what we need to overcome adversity in life, address the challenges of the world, and prepare for the judgment as we enter eternity (Psa. 90:17).

This is a great God, and serving Him, we can also have a great life. When placed in the context of Moses’ own life and service, finally learning to serve at the age of eighty and getting to view Canaan, his life’s work, shortly before his death, the prayer he offers here can surely motivate us to build a future with God, share our heartaches with God, and thus prepare for an eternity with God.

What Do We Really Need?

All of us are poor and needy at heart, whether we realize it and admit it or not. Indeed, often a stubborn heart and rebellious spirit keeps us from enjoying full access to the depth of God’s care because we refuse to acknowledge our needs, our weaknesses, and our true situation, choosing instead to try to do everything ourselves, including much that is impossible for us to do. Is it then any wonder that anxiety holds sway when we fail to turn to the One available and able to come to our aid? David, despite fighting as a soldier and reigning as king, had a heart for God so tender that he turned regularly to Him in great humility to ask and even plead for the needs of his soul, as Psalm 86 provides more than adequate evidence.

In the first seven verses David calls on God to preserve him, to save him, to show him mercy, and to give him a reason to rejoice by answering his prayer in the affirmative. However, the basis for his request shows how his mindset  differed from how we often see ourselves and therefore approach God. David came to God specifically because he saw himself as “poor and needy” (Psa. 86:1) and because God is so much more: holy, trustworthy, good, ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy. Indeed, David had confidence in coming to God because of how positively God contrasts with man—a concept quite opposite from the 21st century desire to lower God to man’s level. But the LORD’s nature especially qualifies Him to help us because His uniqueness makes Him capable of doing what no one else can do (Psa. 86:8). He alone deserves recognition as truly great and therefore worthy of worship (Psa. 86:9), and He has proven such by the power displayed in miraculous and wondrous works performed in times past. Truly, He alone is God (Psa. 86:10). For this reason, we can have complete confidence in His instruction and guidance (Psa. 86:11). Because of this, we can have confidence in His deliverance (Psa. 86:12-14). But more than that, we can have confidence in all these things because of His character. “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psa. 86:15). Surely we have every reason to turn to our God and do His will, because His will is in our best interest, and He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

Only Jehovah God can provide all that we need. And we need Him desperately. Therefore, let us humble our hearts and acknowledge our need, let us realize the great power and mercy of the one true God and reach out to Him with confidence that He will do what is best for us. As long as we live upon this earth, we will face struggles without and struggles within, but through it all, we have a God on whom we can always rely. This is why, regardless of our problems and regardless of our situation, the faithful can lift their voices to heaven and cry, “Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your maidservant. Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (Psa. 86:16-17).

Revive Us Again

Israel knew the pain of sin and rebellion. They had lived through the self-inflicted torture of captivity and poverty. They had experienced the consequences of their own bad decisions and come to recognize God’s justice in the process. Therefore, when the sons of Korah penned Psalm 85, they had come to grips with their responsibility and acknowledged both their sin and their need. As they reflected on the grace of God that gave them Canaan and brought them out of Egyptian bondage (Psa. 85:1), they remembered His forbearance and forgiveness when the people sinned time and time again (Psa. 85:2). Thus, the recognition that God had let His anger subside (Psa. 85:3) gave them hope for their future as well, causing them to call out to Him with a passionate and urgent plea for a renewed relationship. This is similar to where each of us finds ourselves at some point in life—previously safe in the arms of Jesus but then, through our own lust, trapped in the despair of our own sin. Consequently, the plea of the psalm provides a pattern for a personal petition of renewal even today.

Restoration of the soul’s relationship with God depends first on the grace and mercy of God. Without His patience, without His longsuffering, without His willingness to provide unearned opportunity, there could be no hope. And yet this is precisely what we require and what He offers (Psa. 85:4-5). Our cry for salvation does not fall on deaf ears, but the LORD extends His hand from His own mercy rather than our innate goodness, and the new opportunity granted serves a greater purpose than mere selfish survival. “Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, LORD, And grant us Your salvation” (Psa. 85:6-7). He has indeed answered in glorious fashion; however, the gracious opportunity made possible by the love of God (1 John 4:7-11) comes with high expectations and conditions. God requires His people to listen and learn how to act as His people rather than turned to their own heart of foolishness (Psa. 85:8). His people should revere Him in love for the deliverance He makes possible and acknowledge the necessity of His hand in enjoying blessings in life (Psa. 85:9). Therefore, new life has new responsibilities, and God’s people must live accordingly (Rom. 6:3-4). In God’s redemptive scheme, He has found a way for His mercy and His standard of truth to meet so that there can be peace with God despite our spiritual failures (Psa. 85:10-11). God alone has made this possible because He truly is the Author of all that is good (Psa. 85:12; Jas. 1:17). He wants what is best for us, and that is the reason why we should always follow Him wherever He leads (Psa. 85:13; John 14:6).

You may come to a point in life where you realize sin owns you (Rom. 6:16-18), but this is why we can rejoice that Jesus has paid the price for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Yet, just like with Israel, we must respond in line with God’s character, listening to His Word and submitting to His will—not in some vain assumption we impose on Him of our own desires, but in the humble recognition of what His Word requires (Jas. 4:10; John 17:17). Only the scheme of redemption planned in the mind of God and expressed in Holy Scripture can bring mercy and truth together in complete harmony. Only the love and light of God Himself could make righteousness and peace kiss. Let us then embrace their beauty and submit to their wisdom.

The Doorkeeper’s Privilege

Have you ever felt that combination of frustration and longing when you desperately wanted to be somewhere, surrounded by friends and family, but instead found yourself elsewhere by forces outside of your control, practically alone, and daydreaming about all that you were missing? It might have been a family reunion, a concert, or just a group of friends from school getting together to talk about old times. Whatever the occasion, missing it creates a loneliness that gnaws at you deep within. But what if you are missing out on a spiritual reunion, a gathering to worship, and an opportunity of fellowship? If these things truly matter to you, missing them will hurt deeply, because you find yourself separated from the community and the joy that means the most. Faithful Christians who are shut-in and unable to gather with the saints to worship, study, and work—except perhaps occasionally—can appreciate this feeling, knowing how much the simple visit of one brother or sister means in soothing the soul. However, the sons of Korah who penned Psalm 84 understood this as well, and these inspired words capture the essence of longing and the hope of renewal that can provide spiritual solace for those in a similar situation today.

While the exact date of the psalm eludes us, the internal clues provided by the content suggest the words of those swept away in Babylonian captivity, but likely before the destruction of the temple. Thus, one who had ministered in the temple and anticipated journeying to Jerusalem for the annual feasts found himself unable to return but only able to remember and imagine. O how he loved coming before the LORD where He dwelled (Psa. 84:1), and now this had been taken from him; the loss compelled him to cry out (Psa. 84:2). Even birds could take shelter on the temple grounds, while he was left only with his memories (Psa. 84:3). He envisions the journey through the barrenness of the Valley of Baca, but he sees it as an opportunity rather than a burden (Psa. 84:6). Therefore, unable to make the journey, he longs for God to accept his prayer offered in isolation (Psa. 84:8), a prayer asking for protection in difficult circumstances, including for the deposed king led away in shame (Psa. 84:9).

While the background of the psalm has a tinge of sadness, the message centers on spiritual joy. For despite his own situation, he sees what so many forget. (1) Worshiping God, bowing before His presence, and praising His name is a privilege we should not take for granted (Psa. 84:4). (2) When you find your strength in God, the more time you spend with Him and serving Him, the stronger you become (Psa. 84:5, 7). (3) The stronger our faith in God, the more happiness and joy we can allow into our lives, because we will see all that God makes possible (Psa. 84:11-12). He so wanted to experience this once more that he concludes standing on the threshold looking in from the outside to glimpse for just a moment the blessings that come from God are vastly superior to living in comfort in a wicked land: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psa. 84:10). We are not in captivity—not yet. But let us learn from the psalmist and appreciate our blessings today and not wait until they are taken from us.

You Are Gods

The psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 82:6, “You are gods,” has created confusion among Bible students, commentators, and preachers for generations, even with Jesus’ own comment on the passage. The word itself is exactly the same as the word translated “God” throughout the remainder of the psalm, and yet the context clearly dictates that it refers to others. But to whom? That has been the real question. The nature of the word elohim is fairly broad. It is plural and refers either to “mighty ones” or to the “One who is mighty” (though with the plural still present, indicating His majesty, the trinity, or perhaps even both). Some have maintained that the word here refers to angels as does happen on occasion; however, the nature of the responsibilities cited in verses two through four in particular indicate men. But, if so, why did he call them “gods”?

The setting of the psalm provides insight into the structure, the emphasis, and the specific meaning given by Jesus. In the opening verse Asaph presents an ancient courtroom scene with God presiding over all those with some kind of authority, exercising judgment over those mighty ones (Psa. 82:1) similar to how God told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:15-16) and similar in responsibility to those judges Moses appointed at his father-in-law’s recommendation (Ex. 18:25-26). He then presents the accusation as God calls the people in power to account for their failures to judge fairly, essentially charging them with partiality in letting the guilty go free while failing to protect those in need for whose protection the law was given (Psa. 82:2-4). As He brings His argument to a close, He maintains that these people who have been given great authority do not appreciate it or understand the role they have been given, using it selfishly and creating instability in society as a result of their decisions (Psa. 82:5). Thus, in the next two verses He contrasts the greatness of the responsibility with which they were charged with the death sentence against them because of how miserably they have failed to conduct themselves appropriate to the authority given them (Psa. 82:6-7). Therefore, when God told them, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High” (Psa. 82:6), He was emphasizing the responsibility of the authority they had taken on and that they themselves remained under the authority of the Most High God. Therefore, because they had abused that authority, they would suffer the consequences and lose all the authority they had treated as if they had by right instead of by responsibility. However, all judgment depends on the One who judges the earth. The nations are his, and all judgment should reflect the same (Psa. 82:8).

This stinging rebuke of leaders treating themselves as the authority rather than God has many applications. It certainly applies to governmental leaders at every level, as Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way (Dan. 4:32). But the emphasis within the psalm goes much deeper because of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh—a name not mentioned in this psalm. Jesus defended Himself and the authority with which He taught and worked using this passage. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, ‘You are gods’”? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’” (Jn. 10:34-36). The Jews were upset that Jesus called Himself “the Son of God” because of its implications of displaying divine character, which happened by submission. However, Jesus pointed out that He had been given far more authority by God Himself than those judges of old whom God had called “gods.” Therefore, their emphasis on the terminology failed the test of scripture and revealed their lack of substance. But even more than that, Jesus here emphasized the responsibility of fulfilling the role given completely and unselfishly by submitting to God’s will rather than treating it as an earned honor. Leaders should never forget that they exist to serve. No matter how high the office or important the role, in the end all answer to God according to faithfulness in fulfilling His will (Jas. 3:1).

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