Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Song for a funeral
2 Samuel 1: “You asked for it,” David told him.
There’s no passage of time between the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. We simply turn the page and keep on reading. David returns to Ziklag after rescuing those who were taken captive and is, I guess, rebuilding the destroyed town. An Amalekite shows up in camp with what he thinks will be received as good news. Saul and Jonathan are dead. In fact, he claims (apparently a lie) that he personally finished Saul off. This fellow was probably robbing the dead on the battle field and came upon Saul’s body. He thinks that having David indebted to him will be worth more than the royal headband and bracelet he took off of Saul’s body. Clearly this guy doesn’t know David. After all, David has more reason to kill Saul than anyone, yet he has twice passed up the opportunity to do so. The bearer of bad news goes out to meet his Maker soon thereafter. David composes a song of lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. He could have sung of disappointing failure and lost opportunities. Instead, he remembers the bravery of these two men and the security and prosperity they brought to Israel. As the Amalekite learned the hard way, cheering the death of even a deeply flawed individual isn’t David’s way. It’s not God’s way either.
Take Away: As the Lord is gracious and merciful to us, so should we be to all, even those who don’t measure up.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Uncommon valor
2 Samuel 2: God bless you for this — for honoring your master, Saul, with a funeral.
David mourns the passing of Saul and his good friend Jonathan and prepares to end his self-chosen exile from Israel by moving to Hebron in Judah. He also hears of the bravery and sacrifice of the men of Jabesh Gilead who took their lives in their hands to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons from where they were on display in Philistine territory. They brought the bodies back to Israel for a decent funeral. On one hand we have the story of the man who claimed to have finished Saul off, now we have the story of these valiant men who went into enemy territory following a devastating defeat to show proper respect for their dead king. David knows valor when he sees it and honors those men for what they did. Times of crisis define us. We may be able to put on an act that convinces about everyone, but when the pressure is on the real person is seen, for good or for bad.
Take Away: Challenging times have the potential to bring out the best in each of us.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

War games aren’t fun
2 Samuel 3: The war between the house of Saul and the house of David dragged on and on.
Sadly, Saul’s death and David’s return to Israel isn’t the end of Saul’s story. His general, Abner, makes Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth king over Israel. Meanwhile, David has moved to Hebron in the area of Judah. He’s made king there. Israel’s now divided, with the larger part being ruled by Saul’s son and the smaller area ruled by David. The result is civil war. David no longer needs to run. He has an army equal to that of Israel. Because of that both sides jealously defend their territory. This is civil war at its ugliest, with relatives battling one another. One major battle takes place at the Pool of Gibeon, where the armies meet face to face. In a deadly game, representatives from each side are pitted against one another in one-on-one fights to the death. As David’s men win one round after another things escalate to a major battle in which fighters from each side can call one another by name. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. Civil wars are the worst wars in which people who know one another and share common interests and goals fight it out, leaving corpses scattered across the battlefield. There’s nothing more tragic than war within the family. Church people should do everything possible to avoid such wars. The problem is that, as happened at the Pool of Gibeon, such wars start with much smaller barbed “games” of saying two edged things to one another or giving or taking offense easily. Oh, how we need the grace of God in our relationships with one another.
Take Away: We can more skillfully hurt those closest to us – so dealing with these precious ones must be especially flavored with grace.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Those we empower
2 Samuel 3: Make a deal with me, and I’ll bring the whole country of Israel over to you.
It’s apparent that David’s going to win the war. Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, is an incompetent leader and even his own men doubt him. In fact, David can finish it off any time he wants but for one thing: he continues to refuse to lay a hand on Saul’s descendants. Because of that, things drag on as Ish-Bosheth’s leadership of Israel slowly unravels on its own. One indication is that his general, Abner, secretly comes to David with an offer of peace. Apparently, David thinks that with Abner’s help the foregone conclusion of all this can end sooner and not later, and without his raising a hand against Saul’s son. It doesn’t work out. David’s own general seizes the opportunity to get revenge for the death of his brother at Abner’s hand. Before Abner can act Joab kills him. As often happens in life, the greatest damage done is from “inside” rather than “outside.” In this case, David has one agenda and his general, Joab, has another. One of the challenges of leadership is not only knowing where one is going, but being sure that those we lead — or even better — those we empower to lead with us, share in that goal. Otherwise, they’ll take the authority we’ve given them and use it to pursue their own purposes.
Take Away: Real leaders don’t try to do everything themselves. At the same time, though, it’s important that those who work with us are on the same page as we are.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Who’s in charge here?
2 Samuel 5: David prayed to God: Shall I go up and fight?
Those Philistine warlords must be kicking themselves over how they treated David when he lived in Ziklag. There he was, right in their territory with just 600 warriors. It would’ve been easy to have taken him out. Now he’s king of Israel with all the resources of that land under his command. David’s taken over the stronghold of the Jebusites, Jerusalem, as his center of operations, and now the Philistines come to make up for their past mistake by attacking David and his army. As they mass for a fight, David turns to God. He seeks and receives direction from the Lord and then, with God’s permission, engages the enemies of Israel. David’s approach isn’t the one I’m most likely to use. I see enemies and decide to fight. Only then do I call on God to help me win my righteous battle. In other words, I set the agenda and ask God to bless it. David sees enemies, calls on God, and then goes to battle as God directs. The Lord sets the agenda for David. Know what? I think David’s way is better.
Take Away: For some reason it’s hard for us to consistently seek the Lord’s way first.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Unrestrained joy
2 Samuel 6: David…danced with great abandon before the Lord.
The Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s greatest religious item, has been kept at Abinadab’s house with faithful Eleazar serving as priest. Now, David wants to bring it to Jerusalem. One false start results in the death of Uzzah who carelessly treats the Ark with disrespect, but three months later the Chest of God is being brought into David’s City. The celebration is impressive and genuine. David, the newly recognized King of Israel, leads the way as all Jerusalem celebrates. I can’t help but think of the drum major of the great Tiger band from Grambling State University. No marching in military precision here! David, warrior and king, lays all that aside in unrestrained exuberance before God. However, it isn’t David’s abandoned drum major like dance in leading the Ark that impresses me today so much as his open heart before God. As I study David’s story I find that his life isn’t mistake-free. In fact, he messes up a lot, and sometimes in major league ways. It’s his good heart that commands my attention. This man loves God with every fiber of his being. His drum major routine with the Chest of God opens for me a window to his very heart.
Take Away: The Lord loves it when we worship him with abandon.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Follow the Leader
2Samuel 6: I’ll gladly look like a fool.
One of David’s wives is Michal, the daughter of Saul. It may be that she remembers her father’s “kingly demeanor” as she watches David playing the drum major role in leading the Ark into town. In her eyes, David comes up far short of her father at this point and she simply doesn’t understand why David would make such a spectacle of himself. Not only that, but, frankly, the outfit he’s wearing doesn’t lend itself to such an animated, exuberant display and she tells him about it. David’s reply shows us his where his priorities lie. His joy – his dance – was energized by his love of God. If displaying that joyful love makes him look like a fool that’s just fine with him. Here we see that spiritual leadership isn’t all about programs, plans, and meetings. Christian spiritual leaders are, first of all, followers. We follow the King of Kings, and it isn’t all business. As the Ark is brought into Jerusalem, David isn’t afraid to rejoice openly and emotionally. As he points out to Michal, the maids she’s worrying about know the real thing when they see it and his leadership is enhanced rather than lessened by his transparent joy in the Lord.
Take Away: Christian leadership is as much about leading people in enjoying the blessings of the Lord as it is about organization, vision, and plans.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

I’m part of this story
2 Samuel 7: God himself will build you a house!
For David, the sun’s finally beginning to shine. His long struggle with Saul has come to an end. The promise made to him when he was a mere shepherd has come to pass and he sits securely on the throne of Israel. Even the Ark of the Covenant is now at rest in the city called the “City of David.” David’s comfortable and settled and he wants the same for the precious Chest of God, so he proposes the first ever permanent worship structure, a Temple, for Israel. To his surprise God says “no.” It isn’t that the Lord’s against the building of such a place but this is not the time. Still, God’s pleased with David and he tells him so. David will become one of the most famous people in the world. He’ll reign in peace and when his days on earth are over it will be one of his own offspring who will rule Israel. Even as the Lord fully rejected Saul he now fully accepts David. His family will rule Israel forever. David doesn’t know it, but he’s just heard the promise of the Messiah. One of his descendants will be King of kings and Lord of lords. He’ll rule, not only Israel, but all of Creation — forever! I’m not a part of the people of Israel but, today, I’m a beneficiary of the promise God makes to David. That ultimate Ruler only hinted at in this passage is the Ruler of my life. How wonderful to read about an event that happened thousands of years ago and to suddenly find myself a part of the story!
Take Away: All those who live by faith have a place in the story of the people of the Lord.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Blown away by God’s grace
2 Samuel 7: You’ve done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are.
The promise God makes to David through the prophet Nathan is an enormous one. His offspring will rule Israel forever. When I see how Saul’s sad story plays out then compare it to this promise of “forever” made to David I find it to be breathtaking. All this blows David away too. He goes into the presence of the Lord to express his thanks. Along with that is a real sense of unworthiness on his part. While David’s done a lot of the right things, this isn’t God responding to David’s deeds. Instead, this is God acting out of his goodness and David responding as he ought to respond. It’s true of me too. Oh how blessed I am! God is good to me in wonderful ways. He’s blessed me, not because I’m more spiritual, or more obedient than others. He’s blessed me because of his goodness. Like David, I’m blown away by all the Lord has done and is doing for me. And, like him, I want to express my thanksgiving to the Lord.
Take Away: How can I say thanks for all the good things the Lord has done for me?

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Marching to victory
2 Samuel 8: God gave victory to David wherever he marched.
David is now firmly established as king of Israel. He undertakes the great mission of retaking territory that has been lost and subduing or destroying their enemies. War isn’t pretty and the best I can do here is to simply read the historical account and see it as descriptive of what David is able to do by the power of the Lord. These events are distant from me in time and culture. For David, this is about making Israel safe, secure, and firmly established. The lesson here is not that God will help me inflict pain and death on my enemies, but instead, that God will help me live in victory over those things that would destroy me.
Take Away: By the Lord’s help I can defeat all that would defeat me.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Unmerited favor
2 Samuel 9: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table.
David remembers his friend Jonathan. He and David stood together in the dark days years earlier. At that time they made promises to one another and David hasn’t forgotten those promises. When David learns that Jonathan has a surviving son he seeks him out. Mephibosheth is lame and has had no contact with David, yet David treats him with respect and kindness. Mephibosheth, obviously, has done nothing to earn anything from David. In fact, as the grandson of Saul, he might still have a claim on the throne in the eyes of some people. Most kings of that era would make it their first order of business to wipe out all his predecessor’s heirs to the throne. David, though, does the very opposite. He returns all Saul’s wealth to Mephibosheth and then gives him an honored place in his own household. David’s action here reminds me of the unmerited favor the King has shown to me. Like Mephibosheth, I’ve done nothing to make myself worthy of this great kindness. And, as David reached out to Mephibosheth because of Jonathan, so has the Lord reached out to me because of Jesus.
Take Away: All the people of the Lord are recipients of the unmerited favor of God – unworthy, but made welcome in his household.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Peacemaking can be hazardous business
2 Samuel 10: I’d like to show some kindness to Hanun, the son of Nahash.
There’s a bit of a mystery here. The only other Nahash we have in Scripture is a brutal king who was going to partially blind the men of a village in Israel. His threat energized Saul’s early leadership of Israel. It’s unlikely that the man named in this story is the same one. In some way unknown to us the Nahash mentioned here showed a kindness to David, possibly during his time in exile. David, now settled as king, hears of Nahash’s death and sends representatives to express his sympathy to his son, Hanun. However, Hanun takes them to be spies. He humiliates them and sends them back to David. This event sets off the war that’s described in this chapter. Although these events happen on a large scale, such things do happen in everyday life too. We try to do the right thing, to be peacemakers, only to be rebuffed. Happily, such things don’t have to always end in war. Had Hanun not responded as he did, an alliance might have been formed here, similar to what Israel formed with Hiram of Tyre under Solomon. Probably a larger reminder is that even our best intentions can sometimes backfire. My responsibility is to be a peacemaker and, as Paul writes in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As we see here, it isn’t always possible, but it should be our first effort.
Take Away: More often than not it is possible to live a peace…as the people of the Lord we’re to make that our priority.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Murder most foul
2 Samuel 11: War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another.
David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11 is stunning. There are no excuses, no contributing circumstances that in any way lessen his failure. When Saul takes it upon himself to play the role of priest rather than wait on Samuel it’s a horrible failure, but it’s no greater than the one I read about here. David, King of Israel sees a woman taking a bath and wants her. Abusing his authority as king he sends for her and then has sexual relations with her. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, he sends for her husband in hopes of covering up his sin. The only things we know about Uriah are what we find in this story but it’s clear that he’s an honorable man and a loyal soldier. Failing in his plan, David sends a note to his general, Joab (a note carried by Uriah, himself) that’s actually a death sentence. When David receives word of Uriah’s death, he shrugs it off with “war kills.” In this case it isn’t war that kills. It’s David. In the words of Agatha Christie, this is “murder most foul.” David’s a great man, a real hero, and a key figure in God’s plan for the world. Still, the writers of Scripture do not avoid the issue here. They tell us the whole ugly story. Still, what happens, as unsavory as it is, isn’t beyond the grace of God. I’m glad the story doesn’t end here.
Take Away: The Lord can’t deal with our sin until we admit we have sinned and repent of it.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

I wonder if Nathan checked his life insurance policy first
2 Samuel 12: You’re the man!
It’s through the prophet Nathan that God responds to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her righteous husband, Uriah. We don’t know much about Nathan, but he carries on in the spirit of his predecessor, Samuel. In Nathan we see the same boldness we saw in Samuel when he stood up to Saul. A few pages back, when David wants to build a Temple, its Nathan who first agrees but then returns with the disappointing news that God doesn’t want David to build a Temple. Now, when David has fallen in sin, it’s Nathan who takes his life in his hands and confronts the king with what he’s done. The prophet is pretty smart in his approach. He comes to David with a made-up scenario about a farmer and a lamb. When David reacts with righteous indignation over what he thinks has happened Nathan responds with the famous words, “You’re the man!” David, who could have any available woman in Israel (it’s acceptable in this society for him to have multiple wives), instead wanted another man’s wife. David, who’s bravely fought God’s enemies all his life, has used God’s enemies to do his dirty work for him. It’s Nathan who stands up to David. It’s nice to be God’s spokesman and tell people about the story of God’s love for us, preaching sermons from John 3:16. However, there’s a place for confrontation too. We’d just better be sure it’s God who’s sending us with that strong message.
Take Away: No one is big enough, so valuable to God’s Kingdom, that they can get away with sin.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Sometimes I just don’t get it
2 Samuel 12: The son born to you will die.
I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful, but I really dislike this passage. I struggle with the result of David’s sin being the death of this innocent child. I wish I had some nifty, easy-to-swallow answer that fits neatly into my understanding of God, but I don’t. I can just barely reach out and grasp the concept that God is the Giver of Life and that he can take that gift by his own sovereignty. That doesn’t really solve my problem with this passage although it causes me to acknowledge that God is God and that this is all under his authority. David prays and fasts that his son might be spared, asking God to show him mercy. He knows that God is merciful, so there’s hope that it might just happen. But it doesn’t and the child dies. If you think I’m about to come up with some devotional gem here, well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have nothing. That doesn’t stop me from believing that “God is love” and that he’s a compassionate and merciful God. All I can do is confess my failure to understand and go on trusting in the good character of the Lord. Frankly, this isn’t as isolated a situation as I would like it to be. Still, I go on trusting in those situations too.
Take Away: Even when we don’t understand we can trust. Actually, that’s a definition of faith.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

The reach of sin
2 Samuel 13: Kill him…and don’t be afraid.
When Nathan the prophet confronts David with his sin he not only tells him that the child of his illicit relationship with Bathsheba will die, but that there will be killing and murder in his family. This story about his daughter Tamar and sons Ammon and Absalom illustrates the truth of this statement by Nathan. It’s pretty ugly stuff. Ammon is in love with his half-sister Tamar. His first cousin Jonadab tells him to get her alone and force himself on her. Ammon takes Jonadab’s advice and ends up raping Tamar. When David hears what’s happened, he’s outraged, but does nothing about it. Could it be that his memory of his own relationship with Bathsheba stops him from acting? Technically, he didn’t rape Bathsheba, but when he sent for her on that terrible day, he did so with all the authority of the throne. She really couldn’t say “no” to the king. Beyond that, what David did went public. His family, including Ammon, knew all about it. Surely, knowing that his father took another man’s wife when he wanted her influenced his thinking in this. So Ammon rapes Tamar. When David fails to act, her full brother, Absalom decides to take matters into his own hands. He murders Ammon. Clearly, this isn’t a pretty story. No one in this incident except the victim is portrayed in a positive manner. David has repented of his sin and been forgiven by the Lord, but there are still consequences to his failure. This isn’t God punishing David by encouraging rape and murder in his family. Instead, it’s the outflow of David’s willful actions. Our actions have consequences, some reaching farther and into places we’d never imagine.
Take Away: Don’t underestimate your influence – for good or for bad.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

God provides a way back
2 Samuel 14: God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.
After avenging the terrible thing done to this sister Tamar by murdering his half-brother, Ammon, Absalom has fled, fearing for his own life. Now three years have passed and David’s general, Joab, thinks it is time for David to reconcile with his son. Earlier, Nathan brought to David a made-up story and confronted him with the memorable words: “You are the man!” Now, Joab sends a woman from Tekoa to do a similar thing. She pretends to be the mother of two sons. In her story, one son has killed the other. Now her family is out for revenge by taking the life of her remaining son. David rules compassionately saying he’ll take care of it. It’s then that the woman challenges David for doing the same thing concerning Absalom. She points out that God seeks ways to bring the exile back and that David should do the same thing. David sees the hand of Joab in this but agrees to at least open the way for his son’s return. This incident is a mere snapshot taken during a fast moving flow of events, but I’m taken with the wisdom of the woman from Tekoa. Before Jesus ever tells the famous parable, she pictures for us the forgiving mercy of God for the prodigal. She’s one hundred percent correct: “He works out ways to get the exile back.” We serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: Never give up on God – after all, he never gives up on us.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Simply doing the right thing
2 Samuel 15: Absalom…stole the hearts of everyone in Israel.
Permitted back into Israel and King David’s presence should have humbled Absalom. He should be grateful for the kindness of his father in restoring him after had murdered one of his own brothers. It doesn’t work that way though. Absalom wants more. To be exact, he wants the throne of Israel. With that in mind, he implements a patient plan. First, he begins to play the part of the king, making a regal procession wherever he goes. Then, he sets up shop at the city gate, the place where the community leaders meet to deal with issues under their jurisdiction. Absalom plays the part of the kind, caring friend to all who come. He suggests, ever so gently, that his father, the King, doesn’t care about the common man enough to grant justice. The impact isn’t immediate, but over time Absalom rises in popularity to the point that he can challenge his father for the throne of Israel. It shouldn’t be this way. Absalom ought to be the greatest and most committed supporter of David. Instead, he sets himself up to be his father’s greatest enemy. Sadly, this is how life is sometimes. We befriend people, forgive them, and make ourselves vulnerable to them and then they let us down. It happened to David, and, with Judas, it happened to Jesus too. Frankly, I can’t control what other people do, right or wrong. All I can do is the right thing and demonstrate the gentleness and mercy of God in my life. It would be better if the result of that were blessed and solid relationships. Sometimes, though, I have to settle for knowing that the Lord is pleased with me for trying. That, of course, is extremely valuable in itself.
Take Away: Sometimes we do the right thing and the results are everything we hoped for. Other times, it doesn’t work out, but there’s still great value in doing the right thing.

Devotional on 2 Samuel

2015 -Pictured Rocks Cruise – Munising, MI

Outsiders and insiders
2 Samuel 15: Where my master is, that’s where I’ll be — whether it means life or death.
Absalom has patiently prepared to betray his father, King David, and he decides the time has come to act. With the skill of a big business publicist he orchestrates things to make it appear that the public and the leaders of Israel have made him king. Earlier, David could have easily stopped all this. In fact, he could have kept Absalom in exile in the first place. Instead, David has believed the best in Absalom and turned a blind eye to his scheming. When word of the power grab reaches David he immediately retreats, believing that Absalom has the upper hand. It’s as he flees Jerusalem that we hear the pledge Ittai makes to David. Ittai is from the city of Gath, which means he’s a Philistine. Apparently, he’s deserted his native land to follow David. When David sees him he tells him to go home to Gath, but Ittai will have none of it. He’s committed to David and pledges to follow him even to death. This warrior’s words to David shine in the darkness of an otherwise bleak day. In a spiritual view of things, I am a Philistine, an outsider in the family of God. Like Ittai, the King, himself, has made me welcome. And like Ittai, I cast my lot with my King, all the way, life or death.
Take Away: What an honor it is for an outsider to be invited to the inside by none other than the King, himself.

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