John 3:16-17 & Psalm 103 — For God so loved the world (Nicodemus part 7) — LeGrand Baker

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

To understand the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, we must put each part in the context of the whole. I have already shown that Jesus has explained that he has the authority to perform the ancient ordinances; that he is a true prophet who had a sode experience, that he is Jehovah who presided at the Council in Heaven and is the Creator; that he is Messiah who is the Redeemer; and that he is the Only Begotten Son of God. Now he is explaining that he is the ultimate source of everlasting life.

There are several psalms in the ancient Israelite canon that speak clearly about the saving role of Jehovah. One of the most explicit of those is Psalm 103. Whether that psalm was actually discussed during their conversation, we cannot know, but it is reasonable to suppose that its ideas served at least as the backdrop for what they did say. I would like to look closely at that psalm.

Psalm 103 is an overview of the most important principles taught during the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. Since Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord is a review of that drama, I will make frequent references to its pages. {1} Consequently, some of my friends will find part of this discussion to be a review.

The message of Psalm 103 is carried by the relationship of two words, hesed and LORD.

Hesed is a Hebrew word that means unfailing love based on a prior covenant.{2} As it is used in this and other psalms, hesed denotes premortal friendships with Jehovah that were sealed by covenant before we came to this life. In that context, the word also suggests that the friendship covenant persists during this life, and then continues on forever. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament shows the power of that friendship/relationship:

We may venture the conjecture that even in cases where the context does not suggest such mutuality it is nevertheless implicit, because we are dealing with the closest of human bonds.{3}

One of the most beautiful discriptions of the power of that covenant of love was penned by John the Beloved.

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:1-7).

In the King James Version, whenever the Hebrew text reads “Jehovah” (Yahweh), it is translated as either LORD or GOD in full caps. An example is Psalm 117 which is a simple two verse hymn of praise. It focuses on the eternal and universal power of Jehovah, and on his hesed relationship with us. To emphasize the covenant of love, hesed is used twice, giving it a double impact.

1 O praise the LORD [Jehovah], all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
2 For his merciful [hesed] kindness [hesed] is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD [Jehovah] endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD [Jehovah] (Psalm 117:1-2).

Like Psalm 117, the 103rd Psalm is a celebration of our eternal hesed relationship with the LORD. The difference is that Psalm 103 is much more complete. I quote it here in full for your pleasure. Then I will go through it again to show how comprehensive it is.

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness [hesed] and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy [hesed] .
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy [hesed] toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy [hesed] of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul (Psalms 103:1-22).

In a very real sense, this psalm is a review of the purpose and meaning of the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. It is also a review of the gospel as it was taught and understood by those who worshiped in Solomon’s Temple, and also by the people of Nephi. (“Part One” of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord is a reconstruction of the Israelite temple drama. “Part Two” shows that each of the sermons in the Book of Mormon is based on their temple experience.)

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PSALM 103

1 Bless the LORD [Jehovah], O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

The first several verses of this psalm are addressed to one’s own soul. The understanding of the eternal continuance of the soul is fundamental to many of the psalms. They were the liturgy of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. The drama began with our experiences in the Council in Haven, and concluded with our return to the presence of God.

2 Bless the LORD [Jehovah], O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

My working premise is that the Book of Mormon is the very best discussion we have of pre-exilic Biblical theology. So it is appropriate to observe that, also in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama, King Benjamin explains the “benefits” of the Savior’s Atonement.

1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.
2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people (Mosiah 3:1-7).

4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;

There are three valid definitions of redeem. The one that is used in Job and most frequently in the Book of Mormon means to bring one into the presence of God. {4} That, and that alone, can save one’s “life from destruction.”

4 … who crowneth

It is important to remember that in the ancient temple drama, the king was the chief actor, and whatever ordinances he performed or covenants he made while he was on the stage, were symbolically also performed by each man in the congregation. {5} A crown is part of the priesthood/kingship clothing of the coronation rites that concluded the ancient temple drama.{6}The same language that describe his royal garments is also used to describe the clothing worn by God.{7} So it is reasonable to suppose that the royal robes and crown are designed to represent God’s priesthood and kingship authority. God’s crown is shown in facsimile No. 2 as a sun disk. The description reads:

Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-word s of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.

4 … who crowneth thee with lovingkindness [hesed] and tender mercies;

The king’s coronation was a dual ordinance. It was an adoption ceremony by which he was made a legitimate heir of God, and it also designated him king and the representative of God on the earth. (King Benjamin is a good example.) The king’s being crowned with hesed (unfailing love based on prior covenants) and tender mercies denotes that the adoption was the fulfillment of an eternal loving covenant. The entire coronation ceremony is described in Isaiah 61:3 and explained in Who Shall Ascent into the Hill of the Lord. {8}

5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;

In most contexts that might mean all sorts of things, but in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama it can mean only one thing. The conclusion of the eight day temple drama was a great feast. It represented the return to the Garden of Eden where one was in the presence of God and had free access to the fruit of the tree of life and to the waters of life.{9}

5 … so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

In the Garden where there is no death, one is perpetually young.

As young eagles mature, their early feathers must be replaced with larger more powerful ones which can sustain the bird’s increasing weight. In the context of the ancient temple drama, priesthood maturation and growth comes as one’s burdens increase and his priesthood authority grows to meet those challenges.

6 The LORD [Jehovah] executeth righteousness

Righteousness is zedek, as in the name Melchizedek. Melchi means king, and zedek means priesthood and temple correctness. To be zedek, ordinances must be done correctly. That is: doing the right things; in the right time and place; with the right authority; using the right words; dressed the right way; holding one’s arm or hands the right way. {10} All that has to be correct or the ordinances and covenants are not valid. If Jehovah executes righteousness judgement then all of the ordinances and covenants associated with that judgement must be according to zedek.

6 The LORD [Jehovah] executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
8 The LORD [Jehovah] is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy [hesed].

This world is not a very nice place. If niceness were enforced bad people would not have free agency. That means good people get hurt. In the end, there must be justice for the oppressed. The rectitude of the Savior’s Atonement heals those hurts, while the actions of bad people will inflict their own punishments. To exercise judgement in righteous is to judge with charity. The Savior emphasized that in the Beatitudes where he said,

7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (3 Nephi 12:7).

This Beatitude is a paraphrase of Psalm 18 which reads

25 With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright (Psalms 18:25).

That verse uses the Hebrew word hesed twice, but in different forms: “With the merciful [hesed as an adjective] thou wilt shew thyself merciful [hesed as a verb].”

So the Beatitude reads:

And blessed are those who give hesed, for they shall obtain hesed (3 Nephi 12:7).

There, hesed, like everything else in the gospel’s plan of salvation, calls us back to reflect upon our eternal covenants.

9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

God’s love is immutable. I am convinced that in his entire existence God has never punished anyone for anything. He instructs, warns, pleads, even threatens, but in the end it is not God but our Selves who inflict the punishments. The “punishments” we receive are an integral part of, and therefore cannot be separated from, our inappropriate and hurtful decisions, attitudes, and actions. As Alma explained to his son Corianton,

15 And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.
16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.
17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.
19 Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?
20 And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.
21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?
22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice (Alma 42:15-23).

The Lord explained the same principle to the Prophet Joseph.

11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.
13 Wherefore, I command you to repent, and keep the commandments which you have received by the hand of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., in my name;
14 And it is by my almighty power that you have received them;
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit (D&C 19:11-20).

These are not new principles. They are clearly taught by Isaiah and in the Psalms.

1 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
………………………
25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
26 Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified (Isaiah 43:1, 25-28).

Speaking of David the Lord said,

28 My mercy [hesed] will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him ( Psalms 89:28).

10 He [Jehovah] hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy [hesed] toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD [Jehovah] pitieth them that fear him.

That promise is also in Ether 3, in King Benjamin’s address, Abinadi’s words to Alma, and the psalms repeatedly tell us of that parent-child covenant relationship. In the psalms that relationship is established during the coronation when the king is anointed. That anointing occurred when Psalm 2 was sung, when the king quotes Jehovah as saying, “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7).

14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

There are nothing more tentative than the power, glory, prestige, wealth, and fame that we accumulate in this world. They become zilch, just as a summer flower has no glory come a winter’s day. For example, no one is more dead than a dead king, as the medieval herald announced, “The king is dead–long live the king.” It was a single sentence, there was not even a transition between the old king’s demise and the new king’s taking his place. That sentiment in Psalm 103 is echoed by Isaiah when he wrote of the futility of those who would not hear the testimony of John the Baptist.

3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isaiah 40:3-8).

The contrast is striking. The size of their realm may be different, but the qualities of temporal power are the same whether we are talking about medieval kings, contemporary politicians, corporate bosses, academic department chairs, or parents who belittle their children. It is not the size of the kingdom but the quality of their souls’s seeking dominance that are the same.

In contrast, the qualities of priesthood kingship are the same as charity, whether their domain is the whole church, a Sunday school class, or just being caring parents. Such people will be comfortable in an environment of love, just as the Prophet Joseph wrote,

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson——
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (D&C121:34-46).

17 But the mercy [hesed] of the LORD [Jehovah] is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

“To such as keep his covenant” is a phrase found in only this psalm and one other. That other is Psalm 25 which focuses entirely on the hesed relationship of Jehovah and his covenant children. That is my favorite psalm because it is full of ancient temple code and is as personal as the Israelite temple drama. In Psalm 25, hesed brings our premortal covenants into sharp focus. Its message is central to the theme of Psalm 103. I only quote part of it here but there is a careful analysis in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.{11}

1 Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
3 Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
4 Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.
5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.
6 Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses [hesed]; for they have been ever of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy [hesed] remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.
8 Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
9 The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are mercy [hesed] and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
11 For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.
12 What man is he that feareth the LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.
13 His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.
14 The secret [sode] of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. (Psalms 25:1-14).

19 The LORD [Jehovah] hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD [Jehovah], ye his angels [members of the Council in Heaven], that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD [Jehovah], all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD [Jehovah], all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD [Jehovah], O my soul.

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FOOTNOTES

{1}LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship In the Old Testament and In the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 209 [first edition]); second edition (paperback) 2011. The second edition is in PDF in “published books” on this website

{2}Hesed, unfailing love, loyal love, devotion. kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship. John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), Hebrew dictionary # 2617.
Katherine Doob Sakenfeld of Princeton University Seminary wrote a dissertation on “hesed” in which she argued that it meant “to do what is expected of one.” With regard to the covenant, God does what is expected (keep his covenant promises); man should also maintain “hesed” (keep his covenant promises).
Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry (Missoula, Montana; Scholars Press for the Harvard Semitic Museum, 1978).

{3} G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., trans. Davod E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 15 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986), article about hesed, 5:45-48). Emphasis added.

{4} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “A Meaning of Redeem —— to Come Unto Christ,” first edition, 725; second edition (paperback), 510-20.

{5} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, audience participation in the drama, first edition, 161-84 ; second edition (paperback), 120-27.

{6} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord,”the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness,” first edition, 349-58; second edition (paperback), 483-95.

{7} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “The Royal Garments of Priesthood and Kingship,” first edition, 265 -67; second edition (paperback), 189-91.

{8} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “Act 2, Scene 9: The Coronation Ceremony in Isaiah 61,” first edition, 461-517 ;second edition (paperback), 336-73.

{9} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “Act 3 The Day of the Great Feast,” first edition, 605-41; second edition (paperback), 431-57.

{10} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “Meaning of “Righteousness — zedek and Zadok –– Priesthood Correctness,” first edition, 279- 285; second edition (paperback), 198- 201.

{11} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “The Meek in Psalm 25,” first edition, 525-43; second edition (paperback), 378-90.

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