"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 18





Chapter 18: The Judgments of Numbers (2)

a) Korah  b) Foolish Grumbling  c) Moses  d) Snakes  e) Moab


Chapter 18 Contents

18.1 Introduction

18.2 Korah's rebellion

18.3 More foolish grumbling

18.4 Grumblings get to Moses

18.5 Judgment of Snakes

18.6 The Folly with Moab

18.7 And so…..



18.1 Introduction


In the previous chapter we observed the first judgments found in Numbers and in conclusion highlighted why these judgments in respect of Israel were so important. We continue with the remaining judgments in Numbers:



18.2 Korah's Rebellion


The Sin


Num 16:1-3 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites--Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth--became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?"


The Failure


There are times when you read the history of Israel that you wonder about either the level of communication or their memories – until we look at ourselves and realise that it is so easy to receive encouragement and blessing from the Lord one month and then a month later be feeling low and under pressure and negative (as we noted in the Conclusion in the previous chapter). Nevertheless the charge to us is to remain faithful whatever we are feeling.


I mention the matter of communication because you wonder had Korah and company heard about what happened to Miriam when she and Aaron had moved against Moses previously, yet the truth is that the whole camp had come to a standstill for a week while she was outside the camp in shame and waiting for cleansing. You would have thought that they would remember what had happened to Miriam – and why – and that would have made them hesitate before acting in this manner. However sin is deceptive and makes fools of all of us and so presumably they worked themselves up in such a manner that they thought their complaint was just, forgetting all that has gone before.


Korah is a Levite and as such is a worker involved with the Tabernacle. He seems to want more and so, together with three other men, stirs up 250 community leaders to all band together against Moses. When it was just Aaron and Miriam, Miriam suffered leprosy for a week, but this is almost a corporate rebellion against Moses' leadership.

In the Aaron and Miriam case the Lord had pointed out that He spoke with prophets through dreams and visions etc., but with Moses He spoke face to face (Num 12:7,8). One might have thought that this had been conveyed to the wider people but if it has then Korah and company have forgotten it. Nevertheless it has been said and the Lord has already publicly defended Moses so these men should know the truth and therefore they have no excuse for their behaviour.


Moses the Intermediary


Moses' response is to pray (v.5) and having prayed he has heard God's instructions. He points out their folly: “He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?" (v.10,11) There is still time to repent.

They were Levites but only Aaron's household could be priest – that is just how God has laid it down, so this is ultimately a rebellion against God. Moses then summons two of the ring leaders but they refuse to come (v.12-14). So Moses turns to Korah and basically says, “Very well, you want to be priests; turn up here tomorrow morning with censers and incense and we'll see whose the Lord will accept.” (v.16,17). Thus next morning they are all there and God's glory appears and He speaks to Moses about destroying all these rebellious men (v.18-21).


The Judgment

Observe the order of what happened:

•  Moses pleads for the Lord to spare the wider group and only deal with the ringleaders who led the rest astray (v.22).

•  The Lord tells Moses to get the people to move away form the tents of the three main ringleaders (v.23-27).

•  Moses catches a sense of what is about to happen and makes clear the possibilities – they are spared, in which case Moses is a false leader, or the ground will swallow them up and he will be justified (v.28-30).

•  As soon as he finishes saying this there appears a massive cracking of the ground and the three ring leaders are consumed alive and all who belonged to them (v.31-34)

•  Moreover fire came from heaven and burned up the 250 others who dared to offer unholy incense (v.35). Despite Moses' earlier pleading for them God decreed that nevertheless they had rebelled and as leaders they were held accountable.


By the end of the day you would have thought that there would have been an awesome sense of the holiness of God among the people. Think again.


Please bear in mind as you consider these things, all we said at the end of the previous chapter about these things being a threat to the very existence of Israel .



18.3 More Foolish Grumbling


The Sin

Num 16:41-45 The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. "You have killed the LORD's people," they said. But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, "Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once." And they fell facedown.


Their Folly

It is difficult at times to comprehend the shear stupidity of Sin. The day before, the most amazing and scary judgment had fallen first on Korah and his two henchmen and then on the other 250 leaders. They had all died, and now the people grumble about it. Did they think that Moses was some sort of magician like Darren Brown or David Copperfield today who can perform amazing deceptions? They say to Moses, “YOU Have killed the Lord's people.” No Moses was simply the messenger boy! Did you not see the ten plagues in Egypt ? Did you not see the fire come down on Aaron's two older sons? Have you not realised that this is Almighty God and He's trying to remind you of the covenant you entered into with Him?


Moses the Intermediary

Observe again the order of what happened:

•  The glory of the Lord appeared yet again. Had they grown over familiar with the cloud of glory that guided them by day and the pillar of fire that guided them at night, these sign's of God's presence? And now His glory covers the tabernacle.

•  This is a time for quick repentance, especially when the Lord starts talking about destroying this people.

•  Plague apparently starts

•  Yet again Moses falls on his face before the Lord and presumably intercedes for mercy. And suddenly he knows what to do. This is what the rules of worship and ceremony are all about. He has to offer incense on behalf of the people as a sign of their repentance, even in accordance with Lev 16:12,13. Whereas the use of the censers in the wrong hands brought the wrath of God, the censers in the hands of the high priest, used at the behest of God's appointed leader, brings a halt to the plague that has appeared among the people.


The Opportunity behind a plague

How such a plague starts is unclear, merely that it comes from God. Who it afflicts first of all we are not told but the thing about such a sickness is that it does allow the sick person time to repent of their sin. Unlike fire which comes down and destroys immediately, ‘plague' acts more in a disciplinary manner and gives the sinner opportunity to repent. Perhaps this is a new facet in our understanding of the different forms of judgment that God brings, although we have touched on in it in the previous part about the types of judgment, direct or indirect and their purposes.


We must not let this point go for it is important to see it. When plague came upon the people at large, it is as if God is giving them the opportunity to turn back to him. No doubt if they failed to come to their senses they would end up dying but again and again the scriptures attest to the truth that repentance brings salvation and deliverance from any judgment being imposed by the Lord. Perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves of something we noted very early in these studies, the Lord's word through Ezekiel that came three times: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11)


As we note that afresh, it challenges us to consider that those times when people DO die in a judgment from the Lord, it must therefore, be an occasion where the Lord sees a) no sign of repentance in the person either now or in the future and b) the consequence of leaving this person to do what they have been doing, would have seriously destructive effects on the lives and even very existence of Israel.


The Threat to Israel

Rampant rebellion can lead more and more astray and even undermine the very existence of the nation. Associated with the first of those two things – there is no sign of repentance in the person either now or in the future – must come the reminder that there was really no excuse for the behaviour of someone like Korah because the record shows that again and again they have had the most amazing revelation of God, unique in the history of the world so far. Their actions now would confirm the assessment that their hearts are set hard against the Lord and His authority and leadership, and thus such people find themselves in the same category of Pharaoh in Egypt for whom the future could only be in one direction – down.


God's Encouragement

There is an interesting little follow-on to this incident. The Lord told Moses to get the leaders of the twelve tribes to take and name their staff and they were to be placed before the ark in the Tabernacle and see which one God chose to bless.(Num 17:1-5) Note the reason: “The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites.” (v.5) This must be seen as yet another way the Lord tries to help the people understand and not fall into sin.


The next day Moses went in and Aaron's staff “had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” (v.8) All the staffs were brought out and returned to their owners but “The LORD said to Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die." Moses did just as the LORD commanded him.” (Num 17:10.11) In other words this staff would be a visual reminder and hopefully would cut back and do away with the constant grumblings. God's grace sought to help them NOT sin.



18.4 Grumblings get to Moses


The Pressure on Moses

Num 20:2-5 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!"


We come now to an incident where we might expect judgement but there isn't, but then a further incident where we perhaps would not expect judgment but there is. Remember from early on, we defined a judgment as God's assessment of a situation where He concludes with negative action. So the people of Israel in their wanderings arrive in the Desert of Zin and stayed at Kadesh (v.1) but unfortunately there is no water for them there.


Now you might have expected, after all their previous encounters with the Lord, that they might have learned by now and might simply say to Moses, “Will you talk to the Lord because we seem to have a problem and He's good at overcoming problems,” but they didn't. Instead they had a go at Moses and Aaron and really wound themselves up to have a rant about the negatives of living in the desert (forgetting that it is their own fault that they are still there!) It is at this point that you might expect judgement to fall on this foolish people who are grumbling yet again and yet again criticising Moses' leadership. But nothing like that happens.


So why did it happen like it did? The answer, very simply, is that there is indeed a need of water supply and so it is legitimate to ask the Lord for that. The way they went about it was bad and that might be the cause of disciplinary action, but instead the Lord tells Moses to simply take his staff (as a sign of authority) and simply speak to the rock and water will come forth. End of story.


Moses' Failure

Now we don't know why Moses acted like he did. Previously he's been described as the meekest man on the earth and we have seen him time and time again fall on his face before the Lord, seeking the Lord's mercy. Now whether he's just feeling low or he's just had enough we don't know but he fails to act with the grace he is called to have leading this groups of failures. Instead we find, “So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (Num 20:9-11) Oh dear, we have a threefold failure here by Moses:

•  You rebels”? Well yes they are but he's not called to call them names. •  “Must we bring water out of this rock?” Woah! Moses it's God's job not your power!

•  He strikes the rock twice. Hold on, you were only told to speak to it and so it would be clearly seen to be a miracle, but now the people might think his act of hitting it split it and released the water. Woops! In three ways Moses blows it! It's the first and only time he lets go, but he is held to a very high level of accountability.


The Judgment on Moses

And so we see God's judgment: “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." (v.12) This was fulfilled (Deut 34:1-8). Moses saw the land from the mountainside but never actually went into the land. Why was the Lord so hard on him?


Well first we have to say that as God's representative he should never fail to accurately represent God - without rebuke. The people had to see that he was always spot on when it came to his leading and so the one time when he departed from that, it meant he would be held to account and, most importantly, they would see and know. All future leaders would know (or should know) that they were accountable to the Lord for the way they led His people.


We might note, second, that he was now 120 which is a good old age and probably not the best age to lead a people into battle. To be called home at that age is really no great disgrace, but it does still send the message, “Leaders, be careful, you are accountable to God for the way you represent Him!” Thank goodness for the Cross!


Now before we finish, we might wonder if in fact the reason judgment did not fall on the people as a whole at this time was because the Lord saw something in Moses which needed confronting. Even great leaders fall off their platform and have to be held accountable for the sake of the church and for the onlooking world. Although we see premature death as a punishment, in respect of 120 year old Moses it may be more of a relief, but for the onlookers it was still premature death and as such, still a warning – leaders you will be help accountable – and so will any of the people of God (and the rest of the world!)



18.5 Judgment of Snakes


The Sin

Num 21:4-6 They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom . But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.


God's Design and Intent

Today if we eat too much we become obese. If we drink too much alcohol we get drunk and may suffer liver damage. If we have sex outside marriage contrary to God's design then we create unfaithfulness and a whole host of other repercussions. Although most people are blind to this in their sin and under the dominion of Satan, nevertheless God has so made us that living contrary to the way He has designed us to live means that we ‘break down'.


For Israel the Lord made this very plain through the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 27 and 28 and the clear implication is that when they obeyed Him and lived according to His design He would bless them and make sure everything went well for them, but if they disobeyed Him, and rejected His design for them, He would ensure things went badly.


In doing this He accentuated the whole design feature of His world. In its simplest terms, to use a very common example, if you buy a car you get a manufacturer's handbook which tells you when to have it serviced and so on. You are not surprised (or shouldn't be) if you fail to have it serviced and it eventually breaks down. That is true of a lot of things in life from the looking after plants to the care of anything live or mechanical or electronic. We expect things to work in a specific way and when we do not use them in the proper manner we are not surprised when they break down. Sometimes that breakdown is gradual and as it starts to function less well, that should be a wakeup call to us that something is wrong and we need to reconsider how we are using it.


Their Failure

Now our verses above are all the more surprising because in the three verses before, the Lord had given their enemies into their hands. Now whether it was battle fatigue or something else, we come to this amazing condemnation of Israel: “the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses.” The new generation (the older generation having gradually died off in the desert) are impatient to move into the Promised Land and rashly speak against the Lord (presumably for keeping them there for so long) and against Moses as His representative. They complain about lack of provisions and have clearly grown fed up with the manna; they are ready to go in but their attitude is not what it should be.


They have lost the sense of the Lord's holiness and probably forty years have dulled their memories or the memories of the stories told them by their parents,

•  of the things that happened in Egypt,

•  on their travels to Sinai,

•  the events at Sinai, and

•  their failure to enter the land forty years back.


All this seems to have been lost in the mists of forty years and so they now speak out rashly – but they are still God's people and He does not abandon them. At this point, think what you would do with this people to stop their total collapse. What would you do in these circumstances – come on, a serious question!


In the earlier paragraphs I spoke about blessings and curses and the way we are made to ‘work' and the things God sometimes does and the way a machine gradually breaking down is telling us we are using it wrongly. Now there is a sense with some of God's judgments that they come slowly or at least give warning before having ultimate devastating effect.


The Judgment

Snakes would be natural to the desert but when they start increasing in number and actually becoming a cause for concern, that is a time to think about the situation. The arrival of snakes is one thing, the fact that they bite people is another, and the fact that many people are dying from snake bite is yet a further indicator that Israel should be looking to themselves and what they are doing. This happens: “The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." (Num 21:7) Repentance is always the first stage of turning back and true repentance always acknowledges the specific sin, and Israel do this now.


God's Merciful way out


But what to do to change the situation. The people ask Moses to pray and seek the Lord- a good move! – which he does. The Lord's strategy was one that necessitates faith: “The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.” (v.8,9) Anyone bitten by a snake had to believe that going and looking at this bronze snake on a pole would heal them. Of course they would only be healed because the Lord healed them; the snake had no power in itself. Note it was a snake on a pole, not any representation of the Lord. You might expect them to have to come to the Tabernacle and bow before the Lord but the Lord wanted them to have a faith focus that was on the cause of their plight, and when they did that He would heal them.


The Parallel of Jesus


Many years later Jesus used this illustration: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14) Believing in Jesus

•  lifted up on the Cross,

•  lifted up in resurrection, and

•  lifted up back to heavenly rule 

                      are the fundamental beliefs for the new believer. The initial lifting on the Cross is probably the feature that nearest matches the snake on the pole. Jesus hanging on the Cross carrying our sins is what we have to come to and believe in. That is the doorway for our salvation.


But there in the desert, God's judgment was one that came gradually but obviously and brought repentance and then the means for healing. God was not wiping out His people but using it as a means to bring them back as a people to himself.



18.6 The Folly with Moab


The Sin (1)

Num 25:1-3 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.


There is no doubt that from today's perspective there are some things in the Bible that make us pause up and question and require us to take hold of specific truths to come to understanding about things which otherwise seem pretty horrendous! In what follows the verses above, this is so. We will cover here two sins, first by many of the men and then later by one man.


Double Judgment (1)

First of all for this general sin there is God's command: “The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel." (v.4) Now although it is not mentioned early in the account, it becomes obvious that the Lord sent a plague for later we read, “Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.” (v.8,9)


But as well as His direct action the Lord has required there to be executions within the ranks of the pagan worshippers: “So Moses said to Israel 's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor." (v.5)


The Sin (2)

And yet the folly of these Israelites, which we shall consider further in a moment, becomes absolutely blatant: “Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting,” (v.6)


The Judgment (2)

It is left to a zealous priest to do something about it: “When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them--through the Israelite and into the woman's body.” (v.7,8) It is in response to that that we read, “Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.” (v.8,9)


Understanding the Context


To understand the extent of the folly and the extent or severity of the judgment, we need to remind ourselves of certain facts concerning this people.


•  First they were a people who had whole-heartedly entered into a covenant with the Lord at Sinai,

•  They had witnessed His wonderful deliverance of them as a nation from the slavery of Egypt,

•  they had witnessed the wonder of His gracious provision for them in their travelling across the desert to Sinai.


They were what they were – freed slaves – because of Him and they knew His ongoing provision. Thus they had entered into a binding agreement with Him that they would obey Him and He would bless them and give them a land of their own.


•  But then there had come the fiasco of the Gold Calf and deaths that followed that.

•  Then there had come the travels through the desert to the Promised Land, involving a number of instances of their grumbling rebellion and various types of corrective judgement.

•  This had been followed by their refusal to enter the Promised Land and the judgment of being kept in the desert until the entire generation over the age of twenty had died off – which had taken forty years.


They are now at the end of that forty years and it is the new younger generation that is being prepared to enter the Land. Already they have

•  had victory over Canaanites at Hormah (Num 21:3),

•  they had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites (Num 21:23-26) and

•  also Og king of Bashan (Num 21:33-35).

What takes place next we see as “the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” (Num 22:1) There the king of Moab gets nervous of their intentions and hires Balak to curse then – which he refuses to do (Num 22-24) but he did apparently counsel the king to turn Israel from the Lord by the use of their women (see Num 31:16). Thus what happens in our verses above appears to be a specific enemy ploy to bring down the people of God – sending their women to seduce the Israelite men (in need of comfort after their hard desert wanderings and battles!!!) and then lead them to worship their idols.


The Threat to Israel and God's Plans

There are a number of times in the Old Testament when the very future of Israel is in doubt and this could have been one of those. We are talking about a special people with a special calling and part of that calling is not to blend in with other people but to remain pure and unique. Only in such a way can they remain true to the Lord.


Because it is such a critical situation we find this double judgment – plague from God and executions of those who have gone over to the Midianites. Now of course those men could have fled Israel and avoided death but the key point is that having abandoned the Lord, they have forsaken the covenant and are no longer part of Israel . The case of the Israelite bringing in a Midianite woman to have sex with her in his tent – right in front of the repenting people at the Tabernacle – is the most blatant act of rebellion against God, Moses and indeed faithful Israel and, although the action against him and the woman is shocking, it is nevertheless deserved in the circumstances.


Failure to take action to stop this behaviour would indeed have been opening a door to allow anything to happen and for the whole of the enterprise of taking the Land to fall apart. In a military as well as spiritual sense it is likely to bring the downfall and end of Israel . The Lord's action deals with the sinners but leaves the majority to ponder on these things and ensure they are not repeated. There seems little alternative to what happened in these embryonic days of this new nation, especially as it is a new generation who now stand before the Lord and will be taken into the Land by Him.


It is easy for us to stand at this distance in history and decry what went on until we really and fully understand the crucial issue at stake here – the very future of Israel and all that that meant. No Israel means no further revelation of God, no further relationship with the Lord, no nation into which He will bring His Son to die for the world.


(This is the last of the judgments in Numbers. There is the case of the chastising by Moses of the soldiers for not entirely wiping out their Midianite enemy but that is more a war strategy thing than a judgment of God and we will therefore not cover it here.)



18.7   And so….

Person involved

Their sin

The judgment

Seen in chapter 17



An Israelite

Disregarding the Sabbath laws

Death by stoning

The people generally

Complaining against God

Fire around the outskirts

Aaron and Miriam

Complaining about Moses

Miriam has leprosy

The people generally

Refusing to enter the Land

Die in the desert over next 40 years

Seen in Chapter 18



Korah's rebellion

Grumbling against God & Moses

Death of all concerned

The people

Grumble about what had happened

Plague appears


Misrepresents God

Forbidden entering the land

The people

Complain about lack of resources


The people

Consorting with Moabites

Death by plague & sword

Single man

Brings in Moabite publicly

Death by spear


In the judgments we have observed in this chapter there are:

  • 4 corporate sins, i.e. involving more than one person in Israel
  • 2 individual sins
    • That of Moses
    • That of the sexually rebellious man

Of those judgments

  • They all involved death in some manner
  • One of them (Moses) involved a deferred death
  • One of them involves immediate execution (the man with the Moabite woman)
  • Two of them involved double judgments:
    • being swallowed by the ground (Korah & family & supporters) and others killed by the fire from heaven (the 250 supporters)
    • death by plague and sword for consorting with the Moabites
  • Two of them appear to have brought potentially lethal consequences although repentance would have allayed that
    • plague coming on the grumblers and   
    • snake bites coming on the complainers

We reiterate the significance of these various judgments is in the fact that they come in the fairly early days of the life of the nation of Israel and they work to counteract the potentially destructive nature of the sins involved.


After they have received so much encouragement from the Lord, what hangs in the balance throughout these times is whether Israel can be kept on the straight and narrow by these judgments so that they do not disintegrate into an ill-disciplined rabble who care little about keeping to God's design for them and, for that matter, for the whole earth, and fall into the ways of the other superstitious idol worshipping nations around them, complete with all their barbaric practices. THAT is what this is all about.


It can only be the love and mercy of God that prevents Him destroying them outright and then subsequently destroying the whole of mankind. Israel are to be purveyors of hope, even if most of the world is blind to it, but that is the nature of Sin. God nevertheless, in His love, perseveres to overcome that Sin and reveal Himself and His love and goodness.



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