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Take Heed Lest You Fall

Gracious Discipline to Undisciplined Brothers: 1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

We are a blessed people. Wouldn’t you agree? I’m sure many of us would admit to hardships in our lives, yet we would probably say that God has blessed us in a wonderful manner. Let’s continue with this line of thought. How many of you think that the many blessings you have experienced are proof or evidence towards your eternal security, to eternal life? I have often drawn that conclusion. I would imagine that I’m not alone in that.
Paul has just outlined, in the previous chapter, that he is willing to sacrifice everything to see others come to Christ and possess eternal life. He as well is racing in the Christian life motivated by a desire to not be disqualified. He then turns to the Corinthians and offers them an example of a group of people that had been greatly blessed by God and yet most of them were disqualified from the promised land. The people of Israel had received immense blessing from God, and yet most of them displayed a heart of unbelief and as a result were destroyed.
Purpose Statement: Take heed, spiritual privileges do not guarantee spiritual success.[1]
KEATHLEY: Spiritual privilege provides the basis for success, but it never guarantees it. Instead, spiritual privilege demands responsibility. This is part of the warning of this passage. But let’s not miss the context of this warning![2]

A snapshot of Israel’s spiritual privileges (10:1-4).

Divine guidance, protection, and presence.

The cloud led them. Paul first reminds them (10:1) that “our fathers were all under the cloud.” This cloud appeared on Mount Sinai when God met with Moses and gave the law. It then led them through the wilderness.
Exodus 13:21–22 (ESV) And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
As they set up the Tabernacle, the cloud would hover over it. When the cloud began to move, the people would pack up their things and follow the cloud. It was this cloud that settled in the Temple when the Temple was built (1 Kgs 6:13; 8:10–13; 2 Chr 6:1, 2).
The cloud protected them. In Exodus 14 :19-20, we are reminded of the story involving the Egyptian army following hard after the Israelite people. They were caught with the sea in front of them and the army coming from behind. It was at this point that “the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.”
Not only was the protection of God revealed in the cloud, it was as well experienced in their deliverance through the sea. Paul recalls for them another incident in which God’s favor and protection were experienced for accumulating evidence. This accumulated evidence was to convince the Corinthians that the people of Israel had at least as much divine care, protection, and provision as they but still had chosen to reject God and embrace unbelief.
The cloud was the presence of God. While the cloud clearly was a form of divine guidance it was as well the actual presence of God with his people. This cloud, or what many call the Shekinah Glory, is the most frequent mode in which God appeared to His people throughout the Old Testament. We see in this cloud, early evidence of God’s desire to dwell with His people. God desires to dwell with his creation, specifically those created in his image. Ever since this communion and relationship were drastically affected by the Fall, God has displayed an ongoing desire to be present with His creation. God’s glory is of such a nature that He can’t simply reveal himself, but instead protected man from his presence by being concealed in the cloud.
What a privilege and blessing that Israel possessed in the cloud. They were protected by this cloud. Their path was directed by this cloud. God himself was present with them amid this cloud. What great privileges. Yet, these privileges did not result in spiritual success.

Elite identification

Paul tells us that the people of Israel were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2). The word baptized carries a strict meaning of “dip, immerse in water; in the NT predominately of the use of water in a religious and symbolic sense.”[3] But, in a figurative way it is used to reference the idea of association, an act of commitment to and identification with. In this context, Israel being baptized into Moses indicates that they were associated with and identified with Moses and also committed to Moses as their leader.
BARNES: They were devoted to Moses as a leader, they were brought under his laws, they became bound to obey him, they were placed under his protection and guidance by the miraculous interposition of God. This was done by the fact that their passing through the sea, and under the cloud, in this manner, brought them under the authority and direction of Moses as a leader, and was a public recognition of their being his followers, and being bound to obey his laws.[4]
GARLAND: Israel's deliverance through the sea marked the beginning of their separation from Egypt and their new identity as God's covenant community, and the term "baptism" fittingly represents that experience.[5]
The exact nature of this baptism has long been debated. Some have wondered if there was a literal type of baptism that occurred with the people. Some have seen the cloud moving from in front of them to behind them as then encompassing them and drenching them in its movement. Being baptized in the sea would refer to their journey through the sea with the water surrounding them on all either side. Not only does this not match up to any definition for baptism, it likely misses the point. While it would make for an interesting study, the point of the passage does not hinge on completely understanding the manner of baptism. On the other hand, it is helpful, to see how the baptism into Moses is set up as a type for what would come later, that being baptism into Christ. In the same way that Moses was Israel’s deliverer and the people followed him thus, Christ is the believer’s deliverer and we are to follow him.
GARLAND: In this case, he juxtaposes Israel's deliverer with the Christian's deliverer. Moses was a type of Christ who led the Israelites to freedom. Paul begins with the premise that baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life, and he applies it to the beginning of Israel's existence as God's covenant people, their deliverance from Egypt, and christens that deliverance as a baptism.[6]

Spiritual Nourishment

1 Corinthians 10:3–4 (ESV) and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
There is little doubt that the spiritual food and spiritual drink mentioned in these two verses refers to the manna provided each morning during Israel’s wilderness wanderings and the water that was provided from the rock. These two physical elements are spiritual in that they were supernaturally provided. Their source was spiritual in that they were provided by the Spirit of God.
Manna was provided. You likely recall the manna that was provided for Israel. Israel found themselves wandering around the dessert without any provisions and God supplied their need by providing manna each morning.
Exodus 16:2–5 (ESV) And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
The rock supplied water. The next chapter in Exodus outlines how God provided a rock from which water poured to supply the people with water. A similar event is mentioned in Numbers 20, and the traditional view is that the rock in each of these instances is the same rock. We are made aware in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that this rock followed them.
GARLAND: The clarification of some unknown interpreter became the traditional answer: "The rock of Exodus 17 and the rock of Numbers 20 are one and the same. Hence, this rock must have accompanied the Israelites through their journey" (Enns 1996:31). . . . The "following rock" implies God's continuing graciousness: these gifts recurring throughout their wanderings. The source of this divine gift was always available to them. . . . "The rock was Christ." He is not thinking of a material rock following them, or a movable well, but of the divine source of the water that journeyed with them. He understands the replenishing rock in a spiritual sense, not a physical sense.[7]
The rock was Christ. The passage goes on further to tell us that the rock was Christ. Some believe that the rock was a physical rock that physically followed them through the wilderness. That would be quite amazing, supernatural, and a bit sensational. It also may be true. Others believe that there was a movable well. There simply is no way to know and it doesn’t really matter how Christ provided their physical need for water. What is important is that the “rock” was Christ. Whether in the Old Testament or the New, Christ has always been the source for every spiritual gift. It doesn’t matter whether this was a manifestation of the preexistent Christ. It may have been. As Garland says, “He simply assumes, without going into any elaborate theological detail, that Christ is the source of all divine gifts and succor. Therefore, it is the same Christ, acting in saving history, who is behind both the old and the new saving events.”[8]

A note about “all”

In the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul uses the word “all” five times. If you were associated with the people of Israel, you experienced the divine blessings of God.
1 Corinthians 10:1–13 (ESV) For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. . . . 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
While all of Israel may have experienced the divine blessings of God, this does not mean that all of Israel truly believed and was truly saved. In this specific situation, we are told, “most of them” did not please God. Most of them did not believe. As a result, most of them never entered the promised land. In fact, “most of them” is a little bit of an understatement. All but two of them were killed in the wilderness, and only Joshua and Caleb entered the promised land. Yet, in the fact that all of them received God’s divine blessings, we see God’s marvelous grace and generosity, even to those who would reject him.[9]

A note about the sequence of events mirroring the Christian life.

It’s not simply coincidental that Paul outlines the benefits of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in a manner that beautifully matches up to the Christian conversion experience. Israel was delivered from bondage to Egypt and shortly after were baptized into Moses and in the cloud and in the sea. This baptism was followed by the imagery of communion with Christ in the bread (manna) and the water (from the rock). The imagery of these two elements (baptism and communion) remained with them through their wilderness wanderings until they reached the promised land.
This order of events is magnificently similar to the experience of the New Testament believer. We are delivered from bondage to sin, baptized into the body of Christ (and physically baptized), experience communion with Christ in the Lord’ Supper. And these two elements (our baptism in Christ, and communion with Christ) are present with us until we reach our promised land – heaven.
So then, the Corinthian believers possessed no greater security from the temptations and destruction of sin than the children of Israel. Therefore, Paul will shortly conclude, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

An example from Israel’s disqualification (10:5-11)

The next seven verses are book ended with the word example. Paul is going to unfold for us a list of sins – evil desires. Before he does he points out the fact that his purpose in doing so is to offer to the Corinthians believers an example from which they are to learn.
Israel had been blessed with unimaginable blessings, protection, provision, divine presence, elite identification, and spiritual nourishment; yet those blessings did not preserve them from God’s judgment when they willingly chose to disobey God and refused to believe him. Paul is concerned that the Corinthian believers are going to make the same mistake. He desires to steer them away from such a travesty. The Corinthian’s association with idolatry, immorality, and other sins placed them in a similar position to that of the Israelite’s. They were in danger of rejecting their Rock of salvation through their idolatrous practices. They were in danger of God’s judgment and with that the revelation that they had never truly believed and truly were not saved. This is the “disqualification” that Paul was concerned about at the end of chapter 9.
GARLAND: If they were to counter that their situation is different because they have received Christ's benefits, he would respond, "So did the Israelites!" He intends for them to recognize the direct parallel between Israel's situation and their own so that they might swerve from the path leading to inevitable destruction.[10]
Paul compares these believers to Israel by mentioning some of the specific sins of Israel that correlated to the sins of the Corinthians believers.

Evil desires

The evil desires mentioned in verse 6 comes from the root word that could as well be translated evil cravings. These evil cravings probably refer to the setting found in Numbers 11. Israel is tired of manna and they want meat.
Numbers 11:4-35 (ESV) Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” . . . [God dialogues with Moses and communicates that he will provide meat for them on the next day.] . . . Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” ’ ” . . . 31 Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.

Idolatry

There are several passages we could go to consider Israel’s idolatry. The most prominent passage in your mind is likely when Moses is on the Mount, receiving the law, and he comes down to find a golden calf and the people worshiping and partying around the calf. In fact, the quote in 1 Corinthians 10, “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play,” is from Exodus 32 in which this incident is unfolded for us.
The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Of all the statements in Exodus 32 to choose from, it may seem odd that Paul chose this one. Removed from the context, there isn’t much in this phrase that reeks of idolatry. In context, though, it seems to clearly refer to the idolatrous acts of offering food and drink to the golden image. This was then followed by sexual activity approaching a public orgy. No wonder why Moses came down and was enraged at what he saw.
THISELTON: the form used in the context of Exod 32:6 is to make sport, allowing for a probably triple meaning: (i) “letting their hair down” in the absence of Moses with nuances of (ii) idolatrous dancing before the golden calf, and (iii) sexual license approaching orgy—all in contrast to the theological and ethical restraint and sober self-control (cf. 9:24–27) demanded of God’s covenant people.[11]
This type of behavior is what characterized Corinth, and it was this type of behavior that many of the Corinthians had come out of but may have continued to struggle going back to.

Immorality

If “rose to play” didn’t refer to sexual immorality, Paul moves on in his lists and comes to the sin of immorality. The immorality and idolatry that is mentioned in Exodus 32 resulted in three-thousand people being killed. Therefore, it is likely that the scenario that Paul refers to here in 1 Corinthians 10:8 is that mentioned in Numbers 25:1-9.
While Israel was living in Shittim, the people began to intermingle in marriage with the Moabites. The Moabites invited the Israelites to sacrifice to their gods and they did. They ate and bowed down to the Moabite gods. Of course, the LORD was angry at this idolatry, and the judges of the people were directed to kill all those who had “yoked themselves to Baal.” The bloodshed came to a stop when one of the priest, after seeing “one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Num 25:6), took a spear and killed both the man and the woman. Numbers 25:8-9 then says, “thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.”
The missing thousand. I’d like to briefly acknowledge the missing thousand in this story. Numbers mentions that 24,000 were killed whereas Paul says that 23,000 were killed. A lot of people have speculated as to an explanation for this apparent discrepancy. Fee offered a concise explanation.
FEE: there is not an entirely satisfactory solution. It is possible that Paul had one event in mind (Num. 25:9) but his memory picked up the number from a different event (the number of Levites in Num. 26:62); or perhaps he had access to an otherwise unknown tradition of this event, which seems unlikely since all other known Jewish sources have 24,000. In any case, this is the second (first explicit) example of "their bodies being scattered over the desert" (v. 5).[12]

Impatient presumption

1 Corinthians 10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents
To what is Paul referring when he tells us that the Israelites put Christ to the test? We know that the cloud that continually led them and protected them was God. As well, the rock that provided ongoing water for their sustenance was specifically referred to as Christ. Further study regarding the bread given to the Israelites would reveal that the manna as well is a picture of Christ. He is the bread of life. So then, when Israel complained about their provisions, they were directly complaining about how Christ had not fulfilled them or supplied for them the way they wanted. Their constant grumbling was testing the patience and mercy of Christ.
Numbers 21:4–7 (ESV) From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [This food was a picture of Christ.] 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
We learn in Psalm 78:18 that this complaining on the part of the people put God to the test. “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.”
What was the solution to their sin? The next couple of verses in Numbers outlines for us that Moses “made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:8–9). You may recall this passage being quoted in the Gospel of John as well. In John, it is referring directly to Jesus Christ. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
So then, Israel rejected Christ (by rejecting the food and water that God had provided) and the solution to their rejection of Christ is to look to Christ for their salvation. Does that sound familiar? We reject Christ and thus are in imminent danger of destruction, and yet Christ was lifted up like that serpent in the wilderness; and if we look to him we are as well saved.
BARNES: In what way the Corinthians were in danger of tempting Christ is not known, and can only be conjectured. It may be that the apostle cautions them against exposing themselves to temptation in the idol temples—placing themselves, as it were, under the unhappy influence of idolatry, and thus needlessly trying the strength of their religion, and making an experiment on the grace of Christ, as if he were bound to keep them even in the midst of dangers into which they needlessly ran.[13]

Ingratitude

Sprinkled throughout each of the above settings, we find Israel grumbling. Grumbling is a key theme for Israel in their wilderness wanderings. Israel wanted deliverance from Egypt, but they wanted that deliverance to result in their immediate presence in the promised land. Wandering in the wilderness for years didn’t meet up to any of their expectations. As a result, they complained. They complained about God’s provisions, Moses’ leadership, their food, their wandering. Instead of understanding their plight and sympathizing with them, God is enraged with their grumbling.
While there is little certainty if this verse in 1 Corinthians is referring to a specific passage in the history of Israel, many commentators believe that it is likely referring to Numbers 14.
Numbers 14:1–2 (ESV) Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!
Numbers 14:27–30 (ESV) “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 . . . As I live, declares the Lord . . . 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number . . . who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb . . . and Joshua . . .
It doesn’t matter if Paul was specifically referring to Numbers 14 because grumbling was a common theme throughout the wilderness wanderings.
Exactly how the Corinthians had sinned in this way is uncertain. Maybe they had been grumbling against God in a specific manner, but it is more likely that they had been grumbling against Paul. In the same way that the Israelites grumbled against Moses and incurred God’s wrath, the grumbling by the Corinthians towards Paul could as well result in God’s wrath. They better be careful.

Conclusion

In the same way that an individual can associate themselves with the people of God and be blessed in those connections, can experience the different ordinances, can benefit from the spiritual atmosphere surrounding them; if they never truly believe, those ordinances and blessings will secure no eternal salvation. Their idolatry will be evidenced in their life and God’s wrath will be the consequence.
Paul strongly cautions the Corinthian believers, and us, to not find an inappropriate security in the fact that we have been recipients of God’s blessings. God’s grace can be experienced by all. That does not mean that all have believed and will receive eternal life. In fact, like Israel, all received divine blessings, but God was not pleased with most of them, and of that entire generation, only two made it to the promised land.

An exhortation to take heed (12).

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Corinthians! Don’t think that you are immune from making the same mistakes as Israel and as a result, revealing the absence of belief and incurring the judgment of God. Don’t allow yourself to be lifted up in pride and think yourself incapable of such destruction.
This is a potent and solid example that Paul lays out for the Corinthians and us. And yet, motivated by a wonderful pastoral heart, Paul can’t end the discussion on such a strong note. He takes a break in the discussion and offers a word of encouragement.

An encouragement that you’re not alone (13).

What great encouragement and refreshment is found in verse 13. This is likely one of the most oft quoted verses in Corinthians and for good reason. It delivers great hope and solice in the midst of an intense and serious discussion. (1) Everything you have experienced, every temptation you have encountered, is normal. Many others have wrestled with the same temptations and challenges. (2) God will not allow into your life something that you are not able to bear with his help. (3) God will provide a way of escape. You will never be tempted to the point of being unable to avoid sinning.
[1] “The logical link between the two is easily discerned: all the runners run but not all win; so also, all the Israelites experienced the blessings of the exodus and divine provision, but not all made it to the Promised Land.” Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, 443.
“I would not have you suppose that even a solemn consecration to God and the possession of distinguished tokens of divine favour are a security against the danger of sin, and even apostasy;” Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 178.
[2] J. Hampton Keathley. The Peril of Abusing Our Spiritual Privileges. Accessed October 19, 2016. https://bible.org/article/peril-abusing-our-spiritual-privileges-1-corinthians-101-13
[3] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 87.
[4] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 179. Thiselton says this in a similar fashion. “The significance of baptized in relation to Moses is not least to identify the participating nature of their status and experience. Baptism signifies being bound up with the one in whose name, or in whose sphere of influence, a person is baptized, so that in Paul Christian baptism signifies above all else identification with Christ, especially identification with Christ’s saving death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–11).” [Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 724.]
[5] David Garland. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 451.
[6] David Garland. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 451.
[7] David Garland. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 456.
[8] David Garland. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 457-458.
[9] I appreciated Thiselton’s statement to this same effect. “The main point here, however, remains clear. Such is the generosity of God’s grace that all (πάντες is repeated five times in vv. 1–4) participate in the privileges and blessings of the redeemed covenant people of God, the first two of which are the protective cloud of God’s saving presence and the redemptive crossing of the Sea of Reeds (the manna and the spring of water are about to be mentioned). Nevertheless in the face of such divine generosity, less than the all will appropriate God’s gifts and exercise the self-discipline which will bring them safely through the tests of the wilderness journey.” [Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 725.]
[10] David Garland. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 458.
[11] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 734–735.
[12] Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. 456.
[13] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 185.
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