Failure of Babylon's Idols
Dr. Joe Temple


In our study of the book of Isaiah, we have come to the last half of the book. We pointed out to you that the last half of the book of Isaiah, beginning with chapter 40 and concluding with chapter 47, is divided into three distinct parts in which God comforts the nation of Israel by reminding them that the controversies which they had been undergoing would soon be over and victory would be forthcoming.

Since we started chapter 40 and have come now to chapter 46, we would remind you that we have been talking about the controversy related to idolatry. The nation of Israel was taken into captivity in the land of Babylon that she might be once and forever cured of idolatry.

We have discovered that though there are many things lacking in the faith of Israel today, one of them is not the worship of idols. However, we have been looking at all of this from the standpoint of prophecy because the God who is a greater God than idols proved His greatness by discussing the things which had not yet come to pass.

We reminded you that in this section, God prophesied the Babylonian captivity, as we have come to call it, before the nation had gone into that captivity. He went even a step further and said that the rod in His hand for the chastening of Babylon would make his appearance; he was even more specific telling us his name. He mentioned, in the portion that we considered in our last study, that Cyrus, who would make his appearance on the earth some 200 years after the statement that Isaiah made in that portion of the Word of God, would be His scourging hand for Babylon because of the way that she had treated Israel.

You will recall that the first mention of Babylon, as far as Isaiah was concerned, was in chapter 13, when Isaiah proclaimed that Babylon, the mighty city, would fall. When we come to chapter 46, we have presented to us the fall of Babylon by a discussion of the fall of her gods. We might say today that no city, no nation is any stronger than her religion. You rob a nation of God and the nation will begin to fall. Babylon, of course, was a nation of heathen idols, but still, you take away the hope of religion and the nation goes.

God Contrasts Himself With Babylonian Idols

In the portion at which we are going to look now, we want you to notice how God speaks of the fall of the idols of Babylon as the city itself falls. Notice verse 1:

Isaiah 46

1Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.
2They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.

Bel and Nebo are the names of the two outstanding gods of Babylon. In these two verses, we are told that they were powerless to prevent the onrush of the Persian horde. The Babylonian priests had to load the idols of Bel and Nebo upon their beastS of burden and they had to carry the idols out of the path of the coming conqueror. God said that the idols were a burden to the beasts.

The picture that the Spirit of God would have you notice is that animals had to carry Babylonian gods. The people who bowed down to worship the idols had to carry them away for their own protection. The reason God is emphasizing that is brought to light in the next few verses. He presents Himself by way of contrast. Notice what He says:

Isaiah 46

3Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
4And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.

The contrast, of course, is apparent because what God is saying is, “The Babylonian priests had to carry their gods, for they had to protect them, but I am different. You don't have to carry me. I carry you, and what's more, I have carried you from before the day you were born, and I will carry you after your hair has turned to silver because I will never leave you and I will never forsake you. Look at Me, Israel, and remember that I am God, different from all the gods the world might know.”

Of course, what can be said of Israel in relation to God in this respect can be said of all who trust Him for He is never a burden to us, though we may be a burden to Him. He never places a burden upon us, but He invites us to cast our self-made burdens upon Him because He cares for us.

God Contrasts Himself With Idols of Gold and Silver

Since this section is a section dealing with the controversy of God and idols, He brings to our attention in the next paragraph another comparison and contrast of Himself and idols. Other comparisons and contrasts such as this, if you will remember, are comparisons between idols of wood and stone, but in this paragraph it is a comparison and contrast between the idols of gold and silver and the mighty God. In verse 5, He asks the question:

Isaiah 46

5To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
6They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
7They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.

Get the picture: The man takes the gold or silver out of the bag. He weighs the gold or the silver in the balances. They hire an artist to make them a god of gold or of silver. They set him in a certain place; they bow down before him; yet, he himself cannot move out of that place. He has to be moved. They cry out to him for protection, but he does not answer them, nor does he save them out of their trouble.

With that thought in mind, God appeals to Israel, in verse 8, and says:

Isaiah 46

8Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
9Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

He says, “My proof is the same as what I have given before. I know the end from the beginning, and I tell the end from the beginning before it ever occurs so that you will know that it is I who speak with power.”

He said something here that should be a great encouragement to every heart in any age. Notice the last statement of verse 10:

Isaiah 46

10…My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Nothing changes the mind of God. In verse 11, He is particularly specific, referring again to Cyrus the Persian:

Isaiah 46

11Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

God's counsel stands, even to the personality involved. The chapter closes with another glimpse of God's grace, of which there are several glimpses scattered throughout this Old Testament, for you will remember that we pointed out to you that the last half of the book of Isaiah is very much like the New Testament in its revelation of grace and the God of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at verse 12:

Isaiah 46

12Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted [self-willed] , that are far from righteousness:
13I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.

Stouthearted men notwithstanding, the plans of God will not be thwarted. Salvation will be brought to Israel.

You will recall that though we do not have time to emphasize it today, the salvation to which He refers is the eventual salvation of the nation of Israel, her restoration to a primary place in the plan of God and the eventual salvation of the whole earth, for God will remember His Word.

God Addresses Babylon

Look at chapter 47, remembering that we are talking about the destruction of Babylon which was first mentioned in chapter 13, emphasized in chapter 46 by the destruction of her gods. In this chapter, God addresses the city herself.

We learned in the very beginning of our discussion of the book that Isaiah is given to poetic references. He is given to dramatization of the truth, and he delivers his message here in chapter 47 after he sees Babylon as a rich, beautiful queen, having to leave her throne and become an ordinary servant sitting on the floor, washing dirty dishes. He presents the downfall of Babylon in that fashion. Will you watch for it as we read this portion of the Word:

Isaiah 47

1Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate.
2[As you sit on the ground] Take the millstones [as any ordinary servant] , and grind meal: uncover thy locks [take off your crown] , make bare the leg, uncover the thigh [take off the long royal robes] , pass over the rivers [as any servant might do] .
3Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.

If you will think about what it would mean for a queen to lay aside her royal robes and travel half clothed as a captive down dusty roads and across rivers, you can understand what the Scripture means when it is more accurately rendered, “I will take vengeance, and I will treat you as an ordinary individual.”

This is God's address to the nation of Babylon because she failed to remember God. He says, in verse 4:

Isaiah 47

4As for our redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.
5Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.

Principles Related to Righteousness and Unrighteousness

This is a picturesque illustration of her downfall, but if you will look at the paragraph which begins with verse 6, you will find information that is more nearly applicable to ordinary living, principles related to righteousness and unrighteousness. Why did God bring about the downfall of Babylon? The principles are here as to why He brings about the downfall of any nation or of any individual. In verse 6, He said:

Isaiah 47

6I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst shew them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.

Get the picture here. God said, “ I was angry with My people, Israel. I had to do something to chasten them, so what did I do? I chastened them by turning them over to you, and you did not show them any mercy. Not only did you not show them any mercy, but you even put heavier yokes on the old people than they were able to bear.” Now in verse 7:

Isaiah 47

7And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it.
8Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children:
9But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection [completion] for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments.

If we were to take one word to describe this whole paragraph which made it necessary for God to visit Babylon in vengeance, we would use the word presumptuous. They presumed that because God had turned His nation over to them, God was especially favoring them and they themselves could do no wrong. They forgot God and His principles of righteousness. They said, “We will never have anything evil happen to us.”

Coming back to the figure of speech with which the chapter was introduced, you hear the city of Babylon saying, “I shall never be a widow, and my children shall never die,” but God said, “They will. There are two things that will happen to you in one day. You will become a widow, in the sense that you will be forsaken of all of your power, and your children will die, in the sense that your citizens will come under the yoke.”

Did you notice in the last part of verse 9, He said, “In spite of the multitude of your sorceries and the great abundance of your enchantments, these things will happen.”

Babylon Persists In Communion With Evil Spirits

In the next paragraph, He gives the second reason He found it necessary for her to wear the rags of a widow and mourn for her fallen children. Verse 10:

Isaiah 47

10For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.
11Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.
12Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.
13Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.
14Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.
15Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.

If we were to describe the second reason for the downfall of Babylon in one phrase, we would use the phrase, the persistence of these individuals in communion with evil spirits. They turned away from the true God and the privilege of knowing the truth. They communed with the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators. They didn't move unless they got their information from these folk.

Did you see how God put it? God put astrology and stargazing in the realm of the devil. He said, “You are choosing between My wisdom or his.” Do you understand what we said? We said astrolog y. We have to be careful sometimes, lest we be misquoted. We didn't say astronomy . Astronomy is an apt science that provides great and wonderful information for even the life that we live today, but astrology is the study of the conjunction of the stars in their movements whereby individuals will be able to predict what is going to happen on certain occasions.

If you think that it died when Babylon was destroyed, all you need to do is pass by the average newsstand in any city and see the books on astrology. Every local daily paper that I have ever seen has a double column of astrologers' forecasts, and I know some Christians who even read these columns and plan their lives by what the stars indicate. God says that it is of the devil, and we make no less application than God does.

You say, “Surely not intelligent people.” Ronald Reagan, I understand, insisted that he be inaugurated governor of California exactly 10 minutes after 12, because the astrology of his particular sign indicated that if he was not, he would not have a pleasant tenure in office. You see, intelligent people are still following the thing that God says, “I have brought the city of Babylon to an end for.” Christians, be careful that you don't get entangled with the things of the world, perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally.

I will ask a question to provoke your thinking. How many of you have been to a fortune teller in the last twelve months? I asked that question in a meeting and the answer I got was shocking. I was amazed at the number of people, supposed to be Bible-believing people, who had taken time to go to a fortune teller in the last twelve months. God condemns it. He destroyed a city for it, and He makes His appeal to you and to me on the basis of the destruction discovered in these two chapters. That leads us to look together at chapter 48.

God Appeals to Israel

Chapter 48 does not need a detailed discussion, but we need to look at it together in order to have the complete story of this particular section. In chapter 48, God makes an appeal to the house of Israel and He addresses them first as hypocrites and then as obstinate people who will have their own way no matter what. We might forget for the moment that first this passage of Scripture, by interpretation, is addressed to Israel and see if the overtones do not influence even us today. Notice chapter 48:

Isaiah 48

1Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.
2For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The LORD of hosts is his name.

God said, “You have all the earmarks of a child of God, but it is an empty formality. You are called by His name and you make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth and not according to righteousness.”

It seems to me that these two verses could be applied today to the vast body of Christendom who have the name of Christ but lack that personal relationship with God through Christ which makes it real.

The Obstinancy of This People

Look at verse 3, as we are introduced to the paragraph which informs us of the obstinacy of this people, for in verse 3, He said:

Isaiah 48

3I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
4Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
5I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.
6Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
7They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.
8Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.

God's claim to omniscience and His claim to sovereignty is related to the fact that He says something is going to happen, mentioning it for the first time, and then He does it immediately. If He did not, these obstinate, brass-browed people wouldn't give God the glory. They would say that their idols did it.

May I remind our hearts that all such brass-browed, iron-necked people are not dead. Have you not perhaps in your own life recognized the tendency to pray about something and then when God has given the answer to the prayer, instead of giving God the glory, we give a perfectly logical explanation of the thing that happened? All too often we ask God to work and then we forget that He did and we claim the glory for our own.

Only a God of grace would put up with people like us. Only a God of grace would continue to bless with such obstinacy manifested. Why does He? Well, according to verse 8, He knew it would be this way. It comes as no surprise to Him, for He said:

Isaiah 48

8…for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.

Here is one of many illustrations of the need and the purpose of the foreknowledge of God. Individuals are afraid to talk about foreknowledge and predestination, but you see, God foreknew that this nation would be brass-browed and iron-necked, and He took it into consideration when He planned our whole lives. I am glad for the foreknowledge of God. I'm glad that because He knew I would be the kind of person I am, even though He would like for me to be something else, He has made provision for it. He knew what my response would be in every given case, and He has arranged my life accordingly.

He is a God of Grace

The God of grace manifests Himself again in this paragraph which begins with verse 9, and we have another glimpse of the grace of God, as we suggested we would find scattered through this portion. Look at verse 9:

Isaiah 48

9For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.

Why didn't God cut off Israel? For His name's sake. Why didn't God cut off Israel? Because His own glory was at stake. Why doesn't God cut you off? Why doesn't He cut me off? Why doesn't He visit us with our just due? Because He is a God of grace. Look at verse 10:

Isaiah 48

10Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
11For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.

This is one of the many indications in the Word of God, as far as I'm concerned, that God will not lose any of His own. If a person is genuinely born again, God won't give him up to the devil because if He did, His own name and His own glory would be polluted. He said, “I will not give My glory unto another.”

God's Appeal to Israel is Universal In Application

Having emphasized His foreknowledge, even in the face of the obstinacy of this brass-browed and iron-necked people, He makes an appeal. This appeal, though primarily addressed to the nation of Israel, is universal in its application. We read from verse 12:

Isaiah 48

12Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.
13Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.

Get the picture of God. “Jacob, Israel, listen to Me. I am the first and the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth and My right hand spanned the heavens.” He measured off Heaven, deciding how big it would be. He said, “When I call the hosts of Heaven to do My bidding, they stand up at attention at a moment's notice.”

How ashamed we ought to be! The very hosts of Heaven are glad to do the bidding of our God. At a moment's notice the stars come out, the sun makes her benevolent rays felt, glad to do the bidding of the eternal Creator. But us? We are not so quick to respond. He said, in verse 14:

Isaiah 48

14All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them [the idol gods] hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.
15I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.
16Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

Isaiah, who usually has been speaking as though God were speaking through him, interrupts and says, “You know, everything that I have been saying at the direction of God, I have not spoken it in secret. I want you to know that the Lord God and His Spirit hath sent me with this special message.” Then in verse 17:

Isaiah 48

17Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.
18O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
19Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.

God Teaches Us to Profit

Though these words by interpretation apply to the nation of Israel, by a much wider application they describe God's desire for every child of His. Notice again the words in verse 17:

Isaiah 48

17Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

Meditate upon those words with me for a few brief moments. Look at the word teacheth . This is not an ordinary word for teach . It comes from the Hebrew word lamad , and it has a picture behind it of a man with a sharp pointed stick, a goad, poking the animal in the side that he might go on because he wouldn't go on without it. Will you think about that and realize that some of these unpleasant things—the goads—are God's way of teaching you. You wouldn't go on without the goad.

The only reason that we can read of the testimony of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament is the goad. The Lord Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus and He said to him, “Paul, it is hard for you to kick against the goads, isn't it?” He had in mind the picture of an animal. The pointed stick was pushed into his side. He would take his foot and try to get it away. Paul had been kicking at the goads for a long time, but those goads drove him to that place on the road to Damascus where he met the Savior.

Beloved, some of these things that you don't understand in your life and you wonder why they have to be and you may interpret them as indicating God has forsaken you, shouldn't be interpreted that way. Interpret them as God's teaching you to profit. This word profit is an interesting word. It is not the usual word for profit , as pertaining to profit and loss. It comes from the Hebrew word yael , and it speaks of an ascension. It speaks of growing up. It speaks of building up.

Do you see the kind of profit God has in mind for you? God is the One who teaches you that you might grow up. God is the One who teaches you that you might add to your Christian experience and that you might ascend, that you might be better today as the result of the teaching than you were yesterday. “God teaches you to profit.” Notice what He said:

Isaiah 48

17…which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

Notice that word leadeth . That is not the usual word for leadeth —when you speak of taking someone by the rein as you might take an animal and lead him or when you speak of going ahead of somebody and saying, “All right, this is the way to come.” No, this word darak speaks of taking a piece of wood, bending it to the exact shape that you would have it, so that when you put a string on it and put an arrow to the string, you will have a bow that will shoot an arrow on a straight course.

When you talk about God's leading you in this fashion, what are you talking about? You are talking about God's bending you into the form and into the shape that He would have you be. Did you ever watch a man bend a bow? The wood must be at the right age, and the wood sometimes is put into water, completely submerged, and left there for a time. Then comes the bending. Sometimes heat is applied. The bending process is continued, but when all the process is over, there is a bow that shoots an arrow straight.

God is saying to Israel and to us, “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.”

God's Promise to Those Who Listen

In verse 18 there are some of the saddest words, I think, in all the Word of God:

Isaiah 48

18O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:

This is what God has promised. This is what God has promised to every one who will listen to Him as He teaches, to every one who will yield to the bending of the bow. What did He say? “Your peace will be like a river, a river that flows slowly but certainly on.” “When peace like a river flows over my soul”—the song writer was able to write those words because of this passage of Scripture.

Beloved, have you learned to listen? Have you learned to harken to His voice? If you learn to listen, peace will be like a river. We must not forget the added words, “righteousness shall be as the waves of the sea.” Have you ever been on a beach when the tide came in? Have you ever seen all the rubbish and pieces of driftwood that come in? How nasty it looks, but after the tide comes in and the waves wash up and the waves wash out, you see white sand again. By and by, as additional waves come in and waves go out, that area that was so nasty looking is suddenly cleansed because the waves of the sea have cleansed.

The Spirit of God has been pleased to use this figure of speech to speak of the righteousness of God. When we listen to His voice, the waves of righteousness come in and we are cleansed. As they go out, we are cleansed. It is refreshing indeed to be cleansed. Have you ever been cleansed? Have you ever been weighed down with the guilt of your sins? Have you ever felt nasty and dirty because of some sin in your life? Oh, how clean you can feel when the blood of Jesus Christ is applied and the righteousness of God is claimed.

Verses 20-21 tell us that these individuals some day will harken. God tells them to go out of the city of Babylon with their newfound message of grace and go throughout the ends of the earth and tell the story of His redeeming grace.

We are familiar with the book of Revelation and related passages of Scripture, and we know that these two verses will never be completely fulfilled until the 144,000 Jewish evangelists tell of God's redeeming grace around the world.

No Peace Unto the Wicked

In closing, I would like for you to notice verse 22, in the light of all that we have already considered. Notice:

Isaiah 48

22There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.

When we were scanning the book of Isaiah, we told you that this phrase is repeated three times, indicating the three divisions of the last half of the book of Isaiah. When we came to it, we realized that we have come to the end of the first section of this last division, but we realize something else. Remember, in verse 18, God said, “Oh, that thou hadst harkened to My commandments, then had thy peace been like a river.” Then, in contrast, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” The Christian can enjoy peace like a river, but the wicked can enjoy no peace.


I do not know your hearts, but may I remind you that if you are without the Lord Jesus Christ, you will never know peace, because there is no peace for the wicked. May I remind you that if you are a child of God—troubled, restless, no peace—yield to the bending of the bow. Yield to the teaching of the Lord, and the peace that passeth all understanding will be yours.

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