Old Testament Studies

Lesson 41 - Deuteronomy 29 & 30

 

 

DEUTERONOMY

Lesson 41 - Chapters 29 and 30

We continue today in our study of Deuteronomy 29 whereby Moses is presenting the curses and the blessings of the Law in summary form. All of Israel is present, even the foreigners who have joined up with Israel, for this sermon of exhortation by the anointed leader of Israel whose time is now very short.

He has been reminding this 2nd generation of the Exodus (only a few of which personally witnessed the horrors visited upon the Egyptians) that these blows against Egypt were God’s wrath for the purpose of gaining Israel’s release from the hand of the enemy. However the Lord would visit every one of these judgments upon Israel as well IF they failed to live up to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. Not only that but He would return Israel to the enemy (herein metaphorically referred to as Egypt); that is Israel would be exiled from the Promised Land that they are only now on the verge of occupying and instead forced to live in subjugation to another people in another land.

We ended our last lesson by discussing verse 22 whereby the land of promise itself would actually suffer from the curses of God right along with the people. The soil would no longer produce; it would be as with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah; dead and infertile. The agent for this infertility of Sodom and Gomorrah was sulfur and salt, and the soil of Israel would behave as though some enemy had spread sulfur and salt upon it.

It is a fact of history that since Israel’s conquering of Canaan under Joshua, the only times that the land of Israel was fertile and fruitful were when the Israelites lived there. Each time they were exiled the land went fallow. Israel the people without Israel the land is incomplete. The beautiful farms and greenhouses that dominate Israel’s landscape today only began to reappear in the early 1900’s as Jews began to seek refuge from their plight in Europe. As more came, the land seemed to respond as a pneumonia victim visibly responds to modern antibiotics. The malaria-ridden swamps were drained and became farmland; the desert bloomed. The hillsides became lush with olive and pistachio trees, and now even mangos and bananas.

It might come as a surprise but the Gaza Strip had become known as Israel’s Greenhouse. It produced about ½ of all kosher food products for Israel. In the short time since Israel buckled to international pressure and has evacuated it and given it over to the Palestinians, the food production has dropped so drastically it can’t even feed the rather small Palestinian population of Gaza.

Let’s re-read a short section of Deuteronomy chapter 29 to get our bearings.

RE-READ DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 29:21 – end

We know from many of the ancient documents discovered in the Middle East that several nations employed this boilerplate format in their treaties that laid out threats of what would happen if the subjugated city or state violated the treaty and thus brought upon them the wrath of the more powerful king who lorded over them. They could get very graphic and specific about the terrible outcome of rebellion therefore we shouldn’t be surprised to see the same format used here in relation to God, Israel, and the blessings and curses of the covenant between them.

The difference between the standard earthly treaties established with the vassal states and the Empires that controlled them, versus what is being pronounced in Deuteronomy, is that the exact happenings envisioned for treaty violation were prophetic for Israel. In those earthly treaties among nations there were exaggerated threats designed to elicit fear in hopes of keeping the subjugated in line. But in the case of Deuteronomy this was God speaking to Israel and He does not make idle threats, or retaliate with overly harsh unjust consequences, as a means of control. We find that everything Yehoveh said Israel would eventually do they did; and everything He would do to them in consequence of their rebellion He did.

These verses state that the level of devastation upon Israel for their rebellion will be such that foreigners who travel to Israel, and the next generation of Israelites who will bear the burden of these curses, will ask what could have caused this to happen. The reason for this amazement at what happened to Israel is two-fold: first because it became obvious to Israel’s neighbors that the God of Israel was very powerful and that He had overwhelmingly blessed the land with more fruitfulness than it had ever before enjoyed. Second was that it made no sense that Israel’s God would then turn around and come against His own people whom He had gone to such great lengths to establish in Canaan.  Thus the question is begged: “what is the meaning of such frenzied, furious, anger (by God)?”  In other words what could Israel have possibly done to bring this wrath down upon their heads?  Israel’s neighbors and descendants wouldn’t understand what Israel had done wrong.

It’s interesting how rebellion against God usually happens; more often than not it isn’t dramatic but rather it is subtle and all feels and appears to be perfectly normal. The rebellion can go unrecognized because at times the rebellious activity seems to be even pious in nature as the majority of people agree with it and move blithely forward oblivious to their precarious position. Even in the most extreme cases such as the Inquisition whereby the church burned thousands of people at the stake, imprisoned and tortured countless thousands more, and sought to push the Jews out of Europe, few within the Church questioned whether or not what they were doing was Godly. What could be more Godly than to seek out and destroy heretics?

While today we don’t have anything quite like the Inquisition happening within the church, we have slowly and surely adopted habits and customs that bring us closer to the world (and by definition pushes us away from God); the goal being to make the world more comfortable with us. Often the only real outcry among the secular against the church is when one segment of the church does something outrageous like to dare to speak out against abortion on demand, or to deny the legitimacy of homosexual marriage, or to defend Israel as belonging solely to the Jewish people. And even then the outcry usually comes from another segment of the church that sides with Israel’s enemies and finds nothing particularly wrong with abortion and embraces homosexuality. 

Several New Testament Scriptures speak of the return of Messiah and the aftermath of that return; and one of the results is going to be that people (church goers and others as well) will be surprised and confused as large numbers of seemingly nice and pious people, including many who fill the pews each Sunday, find themselves directly in the crosshairs of God’s wrath. The world (and much of the church and synagogue) will ask the question posed rhetorically in Deuteronomy 29:23:  “what is the meaning of the frenzied, furious, anger of God?”  They won’t understand; after all everything seems fine. And Yeshua has explained that His personal response to the masses who raise their hands to the heavens and shout to God, “why?!” at all the coming calamity is this: CJB Matthew 7:22 On that Day, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord! Didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we expel demons in your name? Didn't we perform many miracles in your name?' 23 Then I will tell them to their faces, 'I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!'

Yeshua’s answer was that those people who will be the utterly shocked objects of God’s wrath are the “workers of lawlessness”. What does that mean, “the workers of lawlessness”? Does that mean that people who steal cars are going to Hell? Does that mean that if someone drives 10 mph over the speed limit that they are destined for wrath? After all is it not the position of Christian leadership that once we’re saved there is no amount of lawlessness (sinful behavior) that can bring God’s wrath upon us?

The answer is actually quite logical: when the Bible speaks of law it is only speaking of the Torah Laws, the Biblical commandments. The only law that any Jew called “law” was God’s Law. While Yeshua certainly didn’t advocate the Jews thumbing their noses at the Roman law code, neither can we seriously think that if a Jew refused to follow the laws of the Roman Empire (such as bowing down to Caesar or observing a day of worship for Zeus, or not properly paying their taxes) that this amounted to lawlessness.  Christ’s statement wasn’t referring to the differing civil or criminal national law codes of the various states and countries in the world then or that would come in future times; it was referring to the only law there was for a Jew: the Torah. Are you hearing me? Yeshua’s worker of lawlessness is a worker of Torah-lessness. Jesus is talking about law from God’s standpoint, not the earthly standpoint. Yeshua is saying, “get away from me you who ignore God’s commandments but play all the fine games of going to synagogue or church without fail; or observing all the holy days (or inventing your own) or behaving piously in congregation meetings but actually have no relationship with the Lord at all.

This New Testament answer is (not surprisingly) the same as the Old Testament answer to, “what happened to Israel?” because the Old Testament established the pattern. Deuteronomy 29:24 says that God’s wrath came upon Israel because they abandoned the Mosaic Covenant; they went and served other gods; they served things that were not assigned to them (things reserved for the world in general, but not for Yehoveh’s set-apart people). And it was for this reason that those who seemed outwardly to be part of the community of Believers in good standing (in this case Israel) were removed from the Promised Land AFTER they had been redeemed, after they had been given the commandments, and AFTER they had arrived in the land of the Lord’s rest and settled there. Since Israel’s exiles were always national and not individual judgments, all Hebrews were affected no matter what their personal and individual status before God.

As Paul says to the new group of gentile Believers in CJB Romans 11:19 So you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 True, but so what? They were broken off because of their lack of trust. However, you keep your place only because of your trust. So don't be arrogant; on the contrary, be terrified! 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he certainly won't spare you! 22 So take a good look at God's kindness and his severity: on the one hand, severity toward those who fell off; but, on the other hand, God's kindness toward you- provided you maintain yourself in that kindness! Otherwise, you too will be cut off!

Redemption was reversed because the redeemed walked away from it on their own volition.

The final verse of this chapter is one that could be taught on for hours (you can relax, I won’t be doing that). It says that there are those revealed things of God that belong to Israel and their children forever, and that is so that those things can be observed (followed, obeyed). Those revealed things are the Word of God, the Torah (all Scripture for that matter). Then again there are those hidden things that belong only to Adonai; they are for Him to know and Israel to wonder about. As we’re nearing the end of Moses’ sermons I’m going to take this opportunity to sermonize a bit on a subject that I think is important for our time.

There is so much that we can take from this principle of things revealed so that man can apprehend them, as opposed to things known only to God for His own good pleasure and purpose. One of the greatest tools we have as Believers is the Torah because in it the foundation for redemption is laid; and within the laws and commands we find what pleases God and what displeases Him. We find what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. Yet since about the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. the Torah has been tossed aside by the gentile oriented institutional church as not only irrelevant but abolished. The sad results are self-evident for those who have the eyes to see.

Yet there are also those more subtle effects that can go unnoticed and unguarded even to the vigilant. I would like to quote the noted Bible Scholar and author Thomas Scott as he makes the point quite eloquently:  “ Almost all the heresies and controversies, which have corrupted the purity or disturbed the peace of the church in every age, have originated from disregard to this distinction: it is from vain attempts based on human reasonings and church authorities, in order to fill up supposed chasms in God’s revelation; and to make it more apparently consistent and systematical than it pleased God to make it (in His Word to us). From deducing disputable consequences of God’s revelation Scriptures, or from tracing back the Word’s sacred mysteries to some unrevealed cause, silence can be a more appropriate response in the face of the ultimate mysteries…..”

What Professor Scott is saying is that it is our penchant for wanting to know the why’s and wherefore’s of everything in Scripture that leads us to fanciful imaginings of what God’s purposes MIGHT be; and this has created the hopelessly divided body of Christ that we are today. Further, especially in the Western world, we have decided that God needs our help in the telling and structuring of His laws and principles as if the Word is not complete. We have decided that our intellects are not sufficiently satisfied if we cannot take the Bible and form it into a well defined system that has a ready answer for every theological and social question (whether the answer to that question is directly addressed in the Bible or not). The modern church lingo for these ready answers is “faith doctrines”.

In our age Christianity has taken its eye off the ball and become infatuated with the future. We are all convinced to one level or another that we are living in the period of time the Bible calls the last days. To satisfy this infatuation we have every sort of theological theory put forth that purports to have most, if not all, the truth about what is going to happen in the near future. These theological theories go by all sorts of fancy names: post and pre-millennialism, mid and post-tribulation, pre-wrath rapture, and so on. The best selling book series “Left Behind” has profited from this fascination and created a loyal following to the point that a large segment of the church gives great credence to the speculations of the author’s end times fictional story. I had a Pastor of a mega-church tell me to my face that if one did not believe in a mid-tribulation rapture timing that that person had no place in his congregation and that he would have to question the authenticity of that person’s salvation experience.

Sadly we have made it that if enough people in authority, or who are famous, agree on a certain path of a prophetic future (even though the Scripture may make no concrete mention of it) then it becomes fact and often the basis of some denominations’ pillars of faith. It also becomes a cause for derision and exclusion to those who think otherwise.

Somehow we must again become content with the fact that is stated so plainly and succinctly in Deuteronomy 29:28; the hidden things are God’s and the revealed things belong to us. Said in the negative the hidden things are NOT for us to know. Because of our modern preoccupation with those hidden things (prophetic things) we often pay scarce attention to the revealed things (the written Word, Holy Scripture, with its clear directions and commands). I suppose it is much easier to think about a glorious and exciting future as envisioned by someone in authority than it is to abide by the revealed laws and commands that can be inconvenient and at times stifles our individualism. But to think that we can discern with any real detail the unrevealed prophetic mysteries held by God is a very dangerous thing.

The Jewish sages and religious authorities of the decades leading up to the birth of Yeshua were anxiously awaiting the Scripturally prophesied coming of their Jewish Messiah. Their untenable circumstances of being under long-term oppression by Rome led many to a preoccupation of hoping and planning for that glorious advent of the Deliverer, sometime in the near future. All manner of theories about who he would be, and how and where he would appear and under what circumstances, and when he would reveal himself led to a host of uncompromising doctrines that left little room for disagreement. So convinced were the various religious authorities that the Lord had supposedly revealed to them secret insights on the coming of the Jewish Messiah that heretofore had been publicly unrevealed to men, that when Messiah did come the bulk of the terribly misled Jewish population dismissed it entirely. The Jewish Savior from Nazareth simply didn’t fit the rigid mold of the erroneous man-made doctrines that the religious intellectuals and leadership had concocted and declared as unassailable truth. And thus all who thought otherwise were heretics.

Isaac Newton, a theologian long before he was a scientist, once said that the purpose of Biblical prophecy was not to give us a glimpse of the future; it was so we could look back at the already fulfilled prophecies and see the immutable faithfulness of God.

Let’s be satisfied with what Yehoveh has already revealed to us, and with letting the unrevealed future play out as only He knows it will so that we’re not working at cross purposes to the Lord or blind to divinely ordained events as they come about. Let us determine to focus our time and effort on the revealed things of God and let the mysteries of God remain that way until they happen. Let us focus on His Word, His Torah, His entire Bible and pray for discernment about what He has already plainly given to us and expects us to observe. There is more there than we can swallow in a lifetime as it stands.

Let’s move on to chapter 30.

READ DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 30 all

Moses takes a short detour from his summoning of Israel to the renewal of the covenant in the first 10 verses of chapter 30.

If this chapter were to be given a name it would be “Return and Restoration”. The first few verses in fact employ a repetition of various forms of the Hebrew word shuv that means to turn or to re-turn. So the theme of at least the first half of chapter 30 is that if the exiled Israelites will return to God, God will return them to the Promised Land. If the Hebrews will turn from their apostasy, God will turn from His wrath upon them.

Please carefully note something in verse 1 that I have made a point of emphasis the last couple of lessons: the verse employs the terms “the blessing” and “the curse”. It says that God has set before Israel two different paths; one that leads to the blessing of the Law, and the other that leads to the curse of the Law. The emphasis I have been making is to try and undo an erroneous church doctrine that has fouled and polluted so many other of our doctrines; and that false doctrine is that when Paul says Believers are no longer under the curse of the Law, he means that the Law is of itself a curse and so we have no obligation to it. And that is why the church has been so anxious for 1800 years to denounce the Law as a bad and faulty thing that doesn’t even exist anymore.

It is my prayer that those of you that have been studying Torah with us now see that the curse of the Law is well defined in the Bible as the consequence of breaking the Law, falling away from God, apostizing; the curse is not the Law itself. In fact as we work our way through this chapter, Moses expounds a bit on exactly what the terms “the blessing” and “the curse” of the Law mean.

So God says that while in exile if Israel will accept His verdict for what it is (well deserved divine judgment), and realize that the cause of it was their rebellion; and IF they would turn back to the Lord BY MEANS OF following His commandments (the Torah), THEN the Lord will take them back in love. Verse 2 says this repentance must be “with all our heart and soul” meaning that they must be sincere and fully ready to start anew under the covenant terms.

There is a substantial difference between repenting from our sinful ways and merely a conscious realization that we have been disobeying the Lord, and thus wanting relief from a bad situation that our disobedience has caused us. There is an even bigger difference between desiring a change in our entire being that reflects a newfound relationship with God focusing on obedience, than simply wanting our difficult circumstances to change. Of course exiled Israel wanted their circumstances of being unwanted aliens in a foreign land under the subjugation of a pagan king, to be changed (who wouldn’t?) But that hope for change wouldn’t soften the Lord’s stance on His people. Rather they had to turn away from the path of wickedness they had chosen, and re-turn to Him. 

Moses says that if one of the exiled Hebrews is at the ends of the earth (farthest away from the Promised Land) that even from there the Lord will go and bring that person back…..IF they repent. We’ll see this theme echoed in the books of the Prophets as they prophesy that the Lord will return Israel to the land, and bring people home from the most remote reaches of the planet. But this same theme doesn’t end there; Jesus also employs it.

CJB Luke 15:3 So he (Yeshua) told them this parable: 4 "If one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, doesn't he leave the other ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he does find it, he joyfully hoists it onto his shoulders; 6 and when he gets home, he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Come, celebrate with me, because I have found my lost sheep!' 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns to God from his sins than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent. 

The Lord WILL return anyone who turns from his or her sin to the Kingdom of God. This is so very central to every the Believer. We looked carefully at both the OT pattern and the matching NT pattern that shows that while no human or spiritual being can ever forcefully take one who is the Lord’s away from Him, that a person can choose to walk away from the Lord or to renounce Him as their God. At the same time if that person comes to his or her senses and repents and desires a new and sincere relationship with God under the terms of the covenant then the Lord is keen to take them back.

This is why James, brother of Jesus, says so poignantly that if a brother goes after a brother who has fallen away from the faith and brings him back, it will be saving that fallen brother from the eternal death. Just as the Lord sent His judges and prophets to chastise His people as they got closer and closer to that line in the sand that is only visible to God (that line that once crossed destroys our relationship with Him), after Israel inevitably crossed that line and were exiled the prophets also exhorted the people to repent and come back to God.

Beginning in verse 6 Moses says that it is GOD who will open up your heart and the hearts of your children to love the Lord completely. Understand the sequence; first there is the sincere desire for God, THEN He takes the action of dealing with your heart. Let me remind you one more time: heart means mind. Heart IS a literal translation of the Hebrew. But in the ancient times (in fact right on up to around 400 A.D.), it was universally believed that the heart organ was where thought processes occurred. In other words whereas we know that the brain organ is where thinking happens, the ancients thought it was the heart muscle. The ancients thought that our minds were located inside our chest, in the heart. So we’ll often seen the words heart and mind used interchangeably. Wherever you see the word heart, just replace it with mind and you’ll have the intended meaning.

God therefore says that He will deal with the minds of those who return to Him and put love in their minds towards Him. Over and over pastors have correctly uttered the words, “love is a decision”, because love is a function of our brains, our minds just as some have correctly begun to point out that love is also an action. Love as a feeling is valid to a point; but it is as a result of love in our minds that we get this feeling (emotion) of warmth and affection.

The point we should take away from this verse is the divine intervention of God in the minds of humans to give a full love of Him to those who desire Him. Now that is probably not at all a new principle to you because that is a foundational principle of New Testament Christianity. The thing is (as we have been learning) these principles that are almost universally portrayed as being NT principles are in fact long established Torah principles brought forward.

Moses also says that the Lord will now inflict upon those nations who conquered Israel and sent them into exile the same set of curses that He has inflicted upon Israel. It is truly fascinating how God’s mind and actions operate. He raises up nations to use as His hand of wrath against His own people; and then when they inflict war and strife upon Israel He punishes them for it.

Truly this is one of those many mysteries of God. I can understand the rationale on a very surface level, but I just can’t get underneath it because this is one of those hidden things that chapter 29 told us about; a hidden thing that by definition belongs only to Yehoveh. I don’t know if it’s something He does not want us to know; or something that our very limited mental capacities have no ability to know.

What God has revealed is that in His divine providence He allows nations to become wicked and far away from Him. He allows nations to grow in irrational hatred or jealousy against Israel. At the same time He gives Israel the free will to choose the road to blessings or the road to curses. And when Israel chooses the road to curses He uses that wicked nation to punish the Apple of His Eye IN ORDER THAT ISRAEL WILL REPENT AND RETURN. But because that nation was evil (which is what gave them that Satanically placed irrational hatred of Israel in them in the first place), God is perfectly justified in bring His wrath against them for treating His people so badly.

Let me remind you of something about the Hebrew word for nations: it is goyim. Goyim indeed means nations, but it also means gentiles; it is never a word applied to Israel for one good reason: goyim are all people on earth except for Israel.  So for the sake of our getting a better picture of the meaning and intent of that word’s use in Holy Scripture we would do well to always say “gentile nations” instead of just “nations”.

My point is that by definition it is ALWAYS gentiles who come against Israel. God is always using gentiles for His purpose of returning Israel to Him, for saving Israel. Therefore it is always gentiles who God is punishing for their mistreatment of Israel at the same time He is punishing Israel by using the gentiles. That has never changed. Paul says this about that:

 CJB Romans 11:25 For, brothers, I want you to understand this truth which God formerly concealed but has now revealed, so that you won't imagine you know more than you actually do. It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra'el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; 26 and that it is in this way that all Isra'el will be saved. As the Tanakh says, "Out of Tziyon will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Ya'akov 

God is using gentiles today as both a stick and a carrot to bring Israel back into the Kingdom of God. The carrot is the Gospel that gentile Christians have only recently brought to the Jewish people in a loving way. The stick is the gentile nations that have become anti-Semitic and driven the Jewish people out (and back) to the only place where they can live under a Jewish government: The Promised Land, Israel. The stick is also the gentile nations that surround Israel (Muslims) who want to annihilate Israel.

Yet as always the core of God’s salvation purpose is for the benefit of His people. Therefore as Paul says, “Romans don’t imagine you know more than you actually do………because it is in this way (of using gentiles) that all Israel will be saved”. Well gentile Believers, if that doesn’t humble you and at the same time show you the immense value of the Jewish people to our Lord; I’m not sure what will.

In verse 11 Moses gets back on track after explaining that return and restoration are possible when Israel falls away; they don’t have to remain in permanent exile. And he resumes by saying something that completely refutes another rather common Christian doctrine that needs to be relegated to the waste bin. Moses says that the terms of the covenant…the Torah…..the Law is NOT too hard for Israel to do. The Torah is not unintelligible, it is not inaccessible, and it is not part of those hidden things of God. It is revealed and thus we have it and are to obey it.

In an earlier chapter Moses instructed that at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal enormous flat stones, plastered and then scribed with the words of the Torah, were to be erected and the words place upon them were to be plainly written. The idea expressed here is that while the priests and Levites are indeed teachers and administrators of the Torah, they are not the source of The Law nor are they the only ones capable of comprehending its meaning or correctly observing the laws and commands.

So not only is the Torah knowable it also is at hand, it is doable and God fully expects it to be done. How often have we heard that the reason the New Covenant was instituted is because the Mosaic Covenant was impossible to keep. Wrong. Right here in verses 11-14 Yehoveh, through Moses, says explicitly that the Law is NOT too hard to be kept.

Therefore says verse 15, here is the summation of all that Torah is about: on the one hand life and prosperity, and on the other death and adversity. Life and prosperity equals the blessing of the Law; death and adversity equals the curse of the Law.

But (and here is the secret to living the Torah life as God intends), there are 3 ingredients necessary to maintain our relationship with the Lord. Verse 16 says these 3 ingredients are: 1) Love your God, 2) walk in His ways, and 3) keep His commandments.

Allow me to paraphrase this in more modern terms: 1) trust God (and of course that means trusting His Messiah), 2) live your life according to Biblical principles, and 3) obey the Torah. Trust, live, obey. To obey the commandments without trusting God is worthless. To trust God but to be disobedient is a fruitless life. To observe the Biblical commandments but not to trust God (have a personal relationship with Him) relegates us to permanent separation from Him.

And in verse 17 Moses again cautions that to know the Law, but to turn away from God means exile. To mix in the worship of other gods with the worship of Yehoveh means exile. So, choose life. This is what it means when it says in the New Testament that it is God’s will that ALL will be saved. He is saying PLEASE, CHOOSE LIFE! It is God’s will that Israel, and we, choose life and the blessing of the covenant by means of trusting that Yeshua is Savior and that Yeshua IS God. But notice the 3-part commandment; in order to live the kind of life that a Believer should, obedience to God’s commandments is necessary. Disobedience draws us closer and closer to that line in the sand; disobedience taken to a high enough level (and only God knows where that level is) puts us across that line in the sand and separates us from Him.

Next week we’ll begin chapter 31 that is the record of Moses’ last days.

 

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