Faithful Josiah

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on May 26

2 Chronicles 34:1-7

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I’ll get you to turn, if you will, to 2 Chronicles chapter 34. And as you do that, let me offer you a deal. Give me an hour to talk about King Josiah tonight and you’ll be very happy! Apart from laughter, I’m not hearing any takers! Well let me amend the deal there just a little bit. I’m a way better preacher at forty-five minutes than I am at thirty minutes. Give me forty-five minutes to talk about King Josiah tonight! Crickets! Maybe the really sanctified people went to the beach this weekend, I don’t know! Alright, last version of the deal. Give me thirty minutes on King Josiah and you go home this week and you need to read these chapters with your big study Bible that I know is on your big bookshelf, get that study Bible down and read King Josiah and read all those notes and follow all those references and go back to the parallel passage in 2 Kings. There’s so much here to glean from the record of King Josiah’s reign that I’ll feel good about just giving it thirty minutes if you promise that you’ll take some time this week and do some digging of your own on the role of the ministry and the reign of King Josiah. Before we turn to God’s Word, let me lead us in a word of prayer.

Father, You are so good. You are so good to speak to us. You speak to us in various ways, in various forms in Your Word. You use histories. You show us the lives of men and women and in those lives you show us the fabric of truth that You weave, the fabric of devotion and obedience. You show us the fabric of pain and loss and You show us how to walk with You in their lives, sometimes through what they didn’t do or did poorly, sometimes through what they actually did. Lead us now. Help us learn something about walking with You as we walk through some of the history of faithful Josiah. We make this prayer, Father, in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

A couple of things before we read these verses just to kind of give us a bit of a setup. Aside from the fact that I really love this stuff, there are some things to understand about life in the day that Josiah lived, some political realities. Josiah lives in a political landscape and so things that happened far away affect him and affect the history that we find here in God’s Word. Josiah comes to the throne of Judah in 640 BC. Assyria, for some time, a couple of hundred years now, has been the regional power. If someone in Asher, the capital of Assyria sneezes, someone in Egypt gets a cold! It’s that way. Syria has been the ruler of the roost in that part of the world for a couple of centuries. In 722, a fact that we’re real accustomed to because we hear about it a lot, the Assyrians took over that area that we understand was occupied by the ten northern tribes of Israel and they scattered the bulk of that Jewish population to other sites in their empire. They brought in Gentiles from other parts of their empire to settle that land and intermarry with the Jews who remained. We’re familiar with the Samaritans of Jesus’ day. That’s the origin of the Samaritans of Jesus’ day.

By the time our king, Josiah, assumes the throne of Judah, though, the Assyrians are beginning to falter. Their empire is enduring threats of disunity within and incursions from barbarian bands on the outside. It’s last great king, Ashurbanipal, died in 627 BC, thirteen years after Josiah comes to the throne. Josiah is an eight-year-old boy when he comes to the throne. But his death leaves that empire unable to fend off its threats. In 626, the Babylonians who figure largely in the later history of Judah, the Babylonians assert their independence from Assyria, and they make an alliance with the Medes, out of whom rise the Persians later. The Medes and the Babylonians begin to take Assyrian territory, including its capital city. In 612, the Babylonians and the Medes take the city of Nineveh. That last claimant to the throne of the Assyrian empire, clusters with the remnants of his army about him in Haran, which is eastern Turkey, and he meets defeat at the hands of the Babylonians in 609 BC. We’ll come back to that at the end of this sermon.

So what does that mean? So what? Thank you, preacher, for the history lesson. So what? Well, set against the backdrop of Assyria’s failing political fortunes and power, Josiah begins to undertake what is a vast reformation of the religious worship of his people, extending not just in his kingdom of Judah but also through about two-thirds of the territory of the northern kingdom, up to the area around the Sea of Galilee. Josiah’s authority extends almost through the whole region that used to be ruled by David and Solomon. It’s not quite, but he has more sway there than any other king of Judah. So the Assyrians, that gives them a lot of power and a lot of opportunity. The Assyrians are very busy. They’re trying to survive in their own empire, and they couldn’t be overly concerned about the doings of a minor king in Judah. They were trying to fend off colonial alliances that were threatening to do them in.

God is engaged in the affairs of nations. Let’s not ever sit down and watch the news and forget that fact. God Himself is engaged in the affairs of nations. He was then; He is now. And in this case, He makes room for the efforts of a faithful servant to restore the right worship of God among His people. It encourages us, it needs to encourage us, to be people of prayer for God’s work in the world today. Remember the great promise of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like a stream of water in the hand of the Lord. He directs it wherever He will.” Let’s not ever fail to remember that. Let’s not ever fail to be people of prayer about the affairs of nations and the kingdom of God because God is engaged there. We can’t see it, it’s deeply under the surface, but it’s there. God’s working His will, even now, in the affairs of the nations of the world.

Well before we read, let me just tell you we’re going to be looking at a 2 Chronicles passage; just for your later reading this week, since you promised to do that, 2 Kings 22 and 23 are the parallel passages, and they’re very different. The 2 Kings passage really emphasizes the cleansing of the nations - pulling out all of the idols and the idolatry. The 2 Chronicles passage really emphasizes more the reinstitution of the Passover. Two very big events that Josiah was involved in. Well that being said, let me read the first seven verses of chapter 34. We’re going to read another portion of chapter 34 as well as a portion of chapter 35 tonight as we walk our way through the reign of Josiah.

Chapter 34:1-7:

“Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.”

The Power of Legacy

As you read the passage, you recognize that Josiah is not simply giving orders, he’s there. He’s participating. He’s personally overseeing the purging of idols and idolatry and pagan worship and the instruments of pagan worship from his land. What do we learn? We learn a couple of things. I think one thing we learn that we don’t want to oversee or fail to notice is the power of legacy. The power of legacy. Go back to verses 2 and 3. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of David his father; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. In the eighth year of his reign, when he was yet a boy” - he was 16 - “he began to seek the God of David his father.” While there apparently wasn’t a copy of the scriptures around, as we’ll see later on, because Manasseh would have purged out any copies of the scriptures because of his vast and almost unmeasured wickedness - you can read his story a few chapters earlier in 2 Chronicles - there were copies of the histories of the kings of Judah and even of Israel and there was the record. The kings don’t want their stories destroyed and so there were the records. Josiah would have been exposed to the records of David, the records of David’s reign, the stories of David. And likewise, there were histories and stories of his great-grandfather, Hezekiah, the greatest king since David’s day. If you read the pattern of Josiah’s works and you read them against the pattern of Hezekiah’s works, Josiah’s works mirror Hezekiah’s. He cleansed the temple, he instituted the Passover, he removed the idols and the items of idolatry from the land of Judah as well as the territory of Israel. Hezekiah had a deep heart and a great vision for the people of Israel, not just for the people of Judah, for the whole people of God. Josiah did as well.

Josiah learned how to be a king not from his pagan father and not from his disastrously pagan grandfather who, thank the Lord ended well, but didn’t have enough time after his repentance and his return to God to undo all the heaps of wickedness he had done in his fifty-five-year reign. Where did Josiah learn to be a king? He learned to be a king from David; he learned to be a king from Hezekiah - men whom he had never seen and who never knew him. We thank God for the power of legacy. We see it in the New Testament, don’t we? Timothy. Where did Timothy learn his faith? He learned his faith from his grandmother, Lois, and his grandmother, Eunice. The power of legacy.

Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, please don’t become weary in well-doing. Don’t think your choices and your life model of following Christ are wasted on your children or on your grandchildren. Continue to be faithful. Continue to teach them, as teachable moments arise, continue to walk worthy of the Gospel in front of them. They may make a study of appearing uncaring, unnoticing, uninterested. Believe me, as someone who’s worked almost my whole ministry with young people, they’re watching. They’re watching. You don’t think it and they’re really good at not showing it. They’re watching. They’re learning. They’re soaking from your walk, from your life, from your choices, from your responses, from your efforts to follow God, from your failures and your repentance. They’re learning; they’re soaking in. You’re teaching them, on purpose you’re teaching them the values of our faith and the doctrines of our holy religion as the vow you took describes it. But they’re also catching. You’re teaching but they’re also catching the values that shape your life, your heart, your walk every day. You’re teaching, that’s purposeful, but they’re also catching, they’re absorbing. It’s soaking in. And by God’s grace you may have a chance to see it in their adulthood, in their parenthood. Hezekiah didn’t have a chance to see it. David didn’t have a chance to see it. But here’s Josiah who’s learned faithfulness, who has learned how to walk with God, who has learned how to reign as a godly king from the histories of the men that preceded him. That’s the power of legacy. You and I get to live it with our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, every day. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t forget it. It’s happening. It’s happening.

Sure enough, in one hundred years, your picture like mine may adorn the walls of Cracker Barrel and nobody will know who you are, but you’ll still have the opportunity to have fingerprints left on the hearts of your family, your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren as, by God’s grace, they carry those lessons forward. It’s okay to be hanging unknown on the wall of Cracker Barrel to entertain diners of future generations as long as our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren have something of our legacy to learn from. And by God’s grace, God is the one who keeps that alive. He kept it alive for David, for Josiah’s sake. He kept it alive for Hezekiah, for Josiah’s sake. He can keep it alive for our children and our descendants for their sake as He’s faithful.

Well let’s read another section. There’s another thing that we learn from the reign of Hezekiah and it has to do with God’s Word. Let me get you to look - we’ll read a couple of verses here, also in chapter 34, beginning with verse 8. Then I’ll move to verse 14, then finally verses 18 to 21. This is about the discovery of the book of the Law:

“Now in the eighteenth year of his reign,” - Josiah is 26 - “when he had cleansed the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God.”

Now verse 14:

“While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses.”

And now verse 18 to 21:

“Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it before the king.

 

And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.’”

The Power of God’s Word

What do we learn? We learn something of the power of God’s Word. In this case, we see the power of God’s Word to convict of sin. The Book of the Law that is found in the temple in the course of the refurbishing and the repairing of the temple, the scholars will tell you there’s all kind of speculation about what the Book of the Law is. Most likely, a portion of the book of Deuteronomy because of the actions that Josiah takes following its discovery. A portion perhaps, a larger portion perhaps of the Torah, the five books of the Law. We’re not really sure. But it contained the Law of God. It wasn’t a commentary on the Law of God; it was the Law of God. It was the Word of God - a recorded copy of the Word of God kept safe against that time when it might be safe for the Word of God to be displayed again. Remember, the reign of Manasseh was horrific on godly men and women. Manasseh spread innocent blood. He killed people who were godly. He destroyed copies of God’s Word. He hated God. He hated God’s way. He hated God’s purposes. He hated the worship of God. He hated the people of God and his purpose was to kill them, to destroy them, to stamp them out.

We see the same thing 500 years later in the reign of the Seleucid emperor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes - spilled blood of godly men and women like crazy, hated them. Held Jerusalem and made Jerusalem, made the temple a heap of uncleanness. He did the same thing - destroyed every copy of God’s Word that he could and made every portion of the worship of God illegal and outlawed. Manasseh did the same kind of thing in that day. Hidden within the secret recesses of some portion of the temple is found a portion of God’s Word.

As we read, as we’ve read some, as you read more this week, you find that Josiah is doing, and as you read the 2 Kings parallel, you find that Josiah is doing what seems right to him. It seems right to him to cleanse the house of God of the idols that are there and the material of pagan worship that’s there. It seems right to cleanse the idols of the land and the high places throughout the land, refurbishing and repairing the house of God that his father and grandfather had allowed to go to ruin. That makes sense. That seems right. If he’s going to worship God and God has His temple here, let’s clean it up and repair it and use it. But now he sees fully the danger facing his people. He hears the holiness of God proclaimed. He hears the call to holiness in worship and life extended to the people of God, the call to covenant obedience and the promise of judgment for unbelief and disobedience and disregard and he tears his clothes.

What does that mean, tearing of the clothes? It’s as though one is ashamed of the sin of his people and afraid of the wrath of God. Listen to Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry says, “He long thought the case of his kingdom was bad by reason of the idolatries and impieties that had been found among them, but he never thought it was so bad as he perceived it to be by the Book of the Law now read to him.” The rending of his clothes signified the rending of his heart for the dishonor done to God and the ruin he saw coming to his people. He’s broken. He’s broken. What he’s done, he’s only done what’s made sense to him in light of his study of David and Hezekiah in faithfulness and now he is, for the first time, he sees God’s Word itself and he understands what it is to be broken by sin, broken by his sin, broken by the sin of his people, broken by the thunderings of the wrath of God to come. He’s terrified! He’s terrified.

One of the things I love about Ecclesiastes chapter 5 is that Solomon is telling his readers to be mindful of their approach to the house of God because they will find God there and God will deal with them. He reminds us that as we step into worship, we step into the presence of God who knows us intimately and deeply and He will deal with us. We can expect a meeting with Him. We can expect a meeting with Him! It’s the same way as we read God’s Word. We can expect a meeting with Him! We can expect to hear from Him. We can expect not just a sleepy pursuing of a couple of chapters; we can expect to hear the voice of God as we sit down to His Word. A voice, a truth that leaves its stamp, that leaves a mark, that makes an imprint, that makes a change. That’s what happens to Josiah.

Oh, that it would happen to us. Oh, that it would happen to us as we sit down and open the pages of God’s Word and hear from Him in new and fresh ways. Oh, that it would happen to us that we would take God seriously, that we would literally hear Him as Josiah hears Him and understand, “I’ve got trouble! I haven’t done enough! I can’t do enough!” Can we hear from God as we sit down with His Word? Can we hear from God? Can we unite our hearts to fear His name and set aside all the stray thoughts and all the distractions that come our way when we sit down with God’s Word, when we sit down to pray? Can we lay all those things aside and understand that the most important moments in life this day are about to happen as we begin to meet with God in the pages of His Word, as we begin to draw our hearts to Him in prayer? Can we understand that the phone will wait? Can we understand that everything will wait? There’s nothing more important in Josiah’s life than dealing with God at this moment because he’s heard God’s voice and he knows that much has yet to be done. Oh, that we would read like Josiah reads. Oh, that I would read like Josiah reads and leap from my chair and run out and do business with Jesus and business for Jesus because of what He said to me! May we all read as Josiah reads.

Well what does he do? How does he respond? Look what verse 21 tells us. He says, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book.” “Go inquire of the Lord.” Josiah wants to know, “What do we do? What can we do because the threatenings of God’s wrath are real?” Now I want you to note, if you look at verse 22, we won’t read this section, but Hilkiah and those who the king sent with him, went to Huldah the prophetess. Now you can go through the pages of your Bible all day long. You’re not going to find a book of Huldah. You’re not going to find anything about her. This is the only reference to her that I know anything about. But they seek her out and Josiah doesn’t say, “Go find me this one or that one.” He says, “Go inquire of the Lord.” This is the prophetess to whom they go.

They could have gone to Jeremiah. They might have gone to Nahum. Zephaniah had just finished his prophetic ministry perhaps a year before. There’s no indication that Zephaniah was dead. He might still have been alive. Habakkuk is soon to be preaching. Here’s my point. Here, as the times are clamping down on the kingdom of Judah, you’ve got four prophets preaching to the people of God. God is sending His Word through four different people and then here’s this other person, this other lady known to be a prophetess. There’s no shortage, there’s no shortage of God shouting warnings to His people. There’s no shortage of God calling His people to repentance in the last days of their kingdom. There’s no shortage of the Word of God being proclaimed. There’s a shortage of reception. Isn’t there? Go and read the ministry of Jeremiah. There’s a shortage of hearing. Isn’t there? There’s a shortage of hearts to hear and hearts to receive. There’s no shortage of the preaching of God’s Word. There’s no shortage. There’s no shortage.

The message that comes back to Josiah as he’s inquired of the Lord is disaster - “The disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants.” So Josiah could easily throw up his hands and say, “It’s all done then, isn’t it? It’s all over. There’s nothing I can do!” No, look what he does. Look at his response. You see this in verses 29 to 33. What does he do? He gathers the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He gathers all the men great and small “and he reads in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord.” He exposed his people to the Word of God. He exposes his people to the Word of God so that his conviction might become theirs as well.

Then he makes a covenant with the Lord. Look at verse 31. “And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” And he binds his people. Look at what he says in verse 33, or rather in verse 32. He made all the inhabitants join in that covenant. “The inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant.” Then he goes back, and he finds more idol images, takes them away, especially from the northern territories. He makes a covenant. He binds himself. He binds his people. He doubles down on obedience. Even though he’s heard the word, “Judgment is coming,” what else can he do? What else can you and I do but to double down on obedience as God’s Word convicts us of sin.

But God’s Word does something more. The power of God’s Word to instruct in righteousness. Chapter 35 is all about Josiah reinstating, reinstituting the Passover. He never would have figured this out on his own. He was just doing what seemed right to him until he found the Book of the Law and now he knows about the heinousness of sin and now he knows about the worship of God. It made sense to him. The idol stuff has got to go! But now he knows what to do in the worship of God because God tells him in the Book of the Law. The sacrifices, the Passover, the Passover is reinstituted. He needed the instruction of God’s Word to know how it is that God is to be worshiped. You and I are the same way. We need the instruction of God’s Word to know how to worship God, how to walk with Him, how to live before Him. We don’t figure these things out on our own. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Josiah needed the instruction of God’s Word. You and I need the instruction of God’s Word to know how to live and how to walk and how to please God, how to make the decisions of life that are ours to make, some of which are not always so straightforward.

Something in Psalm 36 that perhaps someone would have told Josiah, perhaps not. It’s true. Psalm 36:9, “In Your light do we see light.” That’s exactly what God’s Word does to us and for us - gives us light. “In Your light do we see light.” It reveals righteousness - His righteousness and the righteousness He calls for from us. That’s why we can’t avoid a casual relationship with God’s Word. Josiah doesn’t have a casual relationship. He’s seeing it for the first time. I wish you and I could go back and uncover that wonder of seeing God’s Word for the first time to blow away the casualness of our response to God’s Word, our being so accustomed to God’s Word. I’m glad we have it. I wish we had some of Josiah’s wonder about hearing it and seeing it for the first time. We don’t have time - in your reading this week, go read those verses 16 to 19 of chapter 35 describing the Passover as it was reinstituted by Josiah, a Passover unlike any other is what the writer of Chronicles will tell us.

Well there’s one more thing we learn. And let me read - I know it’s late - let me read verses 20 to 23 and a few other verses in chapter 35:

“After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to meet him.” Go back to some of that geopolitical stuff we were talking about at the beginning. “But he sent envoys to him, saying, ‘What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.’ Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah.”

Go down to the latter part of verse 24:

“And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments.”

Ralph Davis says this. “Judgment has been announced. It’s now a matter of timing. At this juncture of history, Judah, strangely enough, finds herself with a righteous king. Josiah is a king long awaited. He is the best of all kings. But he is a king come too late.”

The Power of a Sufficient Savior

What do we learn? We learn that we need the power of a sufficient Savior. Josiah can reform their practice, but he cannot change their hearts? The response to Josiah’s reformation was only skin deep and when he died, his reforms died with him. His sons and his brother who followed him on the throne of Judah, returned their country to the pagan ways of the past and their people seemed to accept that return with equanimity - the return of idol worship. Hear this from Jeremiah chapter 34. Jeremiah preaching, of course, during Josiah’s time. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God; they shall be my people. No longer shall one teach his neighbor and teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

Josiah couldn’t accomplish that because he couldn’t change their heart. He could enforce a change in their practice. He could not enforce a change in their heart. That can only come with Josiah’s great descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of David, who can change hearts, who is the means by which God forgives iniquity and creates new hearts where old ones were, who can create a desire and a longing to obey, who can create a willingness to die to self, who can create a willingness and a desire to make the hard choices rather than the easy ones and to go to the long way rather than be enticed by the short cut. That’s a change that only Jesus can make. I read these words from Josiah’s end and my heart just kind of quakes. He was doing so well and had so much time left to give his people, so much good left to be done, but even then Israel, Judah, didn’t need a Josiah. They needed Jesus. You and I need Jesus, not just one - we need Jesus every day to make the changes and the reforms, as we talk about reform from this passage, something more than skin-deep, that they would bubble from a heart change. Or as Jesus described it, that they would bubble from waters of life that He brings to the inner man. That’s the change Jesus brings. Josiah couldn’t bring waters of life to gush out of a life from the inner man, but that’s how Jesus described His work in John chapter 7. That’s what He does.

So as we look at Josiah and we’re impressed with what he accomplished, it points us to the fact that we need a greater Savior. I trust that this night you’re willing to think about a greater Savior and you’re willing to think about, “Do I have that greater Savior that Josiah points me to? Do I know that greater Savior who can really change my life and not just my behavior? Do I know that greater Savior who can give me life and give me life here and the promise of life to come?” Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You for men like this and we pray for Your blessing on us as we walk from here and ask ourselves those questions I was just asking us and seek that sufficient Savior to work right living and right worshiping, hearing from Your Word down deep in our hearts and deep in our souls. So be near us and walk with us. We thank You for this time in Your Word. We ask for Your blessing as we leave here tonight. Let us produce fruit from this seed, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold, for Jesus’ sake and for His glory. Amen.

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