Jeremiah 25 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Jeremiah 25
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon;

(1) In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah.—We are carried back in the present arrangement of Jeremiah’s prophecies to a much earlier period than that of the preceding chapter. It is the fourth (in Daniel 1:1, the third) year of the reign of Jehoiakim, who had been made king by Pharaoh-nechoh after his defeat of Josiah and capture of Jerusalem. Since the prophet had been called to his work, B.C. 629, a great revolution had been brought about in the relations of the colossal monarchies of the East. Nineveh had fallen (B.C. 606) under the attacks of Cyaxares the Mede, and Nabopolassar the Chaldaean. Nebuchadnezzar, the son of the latter, though his father did not die till the following year, was practically clothed with supreme authority, and had defeated Pharaoh-nechoh at Carchemish, on the banks of the Euphrates, in B.C. 605. The form of the name used here, Nebuchadrezzar, corresponds with the Assyrian, Nabu-kudu-ur-uzur. (Jeremiah 46:1; 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20.) He was now the master of the East, and it was given to Jeremiah to discern the bearings of the new situation on the future destinies of Judah, and to see that the wisdom of its rulers would be to accept the position of tributary rulers under the great conqueror instead of rashly seeking either to assert their independence or to trust to the support of Egypt, crushed as she was by the defeat at Carchemish. The clear vision of the prophet saw in the Chaldaean king the servant of Jehovah—in modern phrase, the instrument of the designs of the Providence which orders the events of history—and he became, from that moment, the unwelcome preacher of the truth—that the independence of Judah had passed away, and that nothing but evil could follow from fanatical attempts, or secret intrigues and alliances, aiming at resistance.

The which Jeremiah the prophet spake unto all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying,
From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, even unto this day, that is the three and twentieth year, the word of the LORD hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened.
(3) The three and twentieth year (B.C. 603-4).—Thus there had been nineteen years of prophetic work under Josiah, and between three and four under Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 1:2). Of the former period we have but scanty record. The year is noticeable as that which apparently witnessed the first collection of Jeremiah’s prophetic utterances (Jeremiah 36:5-8).

Rising early and speaking.—See Note on Jeremiah 7:13.

And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.
They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever:
(5) Turn ye again now . . .—The sum and substance of the work of all true prophets has always been found, it need scarcely be said, in the call to repentance and conversion; but there is, perhaps, a special reference to the substance of their preaching as recorded in 2 Kings 17:13. The words are interesting as showing that Jeremiah was probably seconded in his work by other prophets whose names have not come down to us.

And go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt.
(6) The works of your hands.—These were, of course, the idols which they had made and worshipped.

Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith the LORD; that ye might provoke me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt.
Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words,
Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.
(9) The families of the north.—The phrase reminds us of the vision of “the seething pot from the face of the north” in Jeremiah 1:13, and includes all the mingled races, Scythians and others, who owned the sway of the Chaldæan king.

Nebuchadrezzar . . . my servant.—The use of the word which is applied by psalmists and prophets to David (Psalm 78:70; 2 Samuel 7:8) and to the future Christ (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 52:13) is every way remarkable. It has its parallel, and, in fact, its explanation, in the language in which Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as the shepherd, the anointed, of Jehovah. (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1) Each ruler of the great empires of the world was, in ways he knew not, working out the purposes of God. The phrase “I will utterly destroy” may be noted as specially characteristic of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:6, et al.) and Joshua (Joshua 2:10; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 8:26).

Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle.
(10) The voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness.—The language is mainly an echo of Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 16:9, but there are new features in the cessation of “the sound of the millstone,” i.e., of the grinding of corn by female slaves for the mid-day meal (Exodus 11:5; Matthew 24:41), and the lighting of the candle when the day’s work was done (Matthew 5:15). No words could paint more terribly the entire breaking up of family life, not only in its occasional festivities, but in its daily routine. The imagery reappears in Revelation 18:22-23.

And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
(11) Shall serve the king of Babylon seventy-years.—This is the first mention of the duration of the captivity. The seventy years are commonly reckoned from B.C. 606, the date of the deportation of Jehoiakim and his princes, to B.C. 536, when the decree for the return of the exiles was issued by Cyrus. In 2 Chronicles 36:21 the number is connected with the land “enjoying her Sabbaths,” as though the long desolation came as a retribution for the people’s neglect of the law of the Sabbatical year, and, perhaps, also for their non-observance of the weekly Sabbaths. (Isaiah 56:4; Jeremiah 17:21-22.) For the apportionment of the reigns of the Babylonian kings that made up the seventy years, see the Chronological Table in the Introduction. Symbolically the number, as the multiple of seven and ten, represents the highest measure of completeness (comp. Matthew 18:22).

And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
(12) I will punish the king of Babylon . . .—The words are omitted in the LXX. version of the chapter, which differs materially from the Hebrew text, and there are some internal grounds for suspecting it to be a later addition, possibly from the hand of the prophet himself, or, more probably, from that of Baruch as collecting and editing his writings, or of some later transcriber. In Jeremiah 25:26, as commonly interpreted, there is a prediction of the destruction of the king of Babylon veiled in enigmatic language. That we can understand well enough, if it was meant only for the initiated, but it is not easy to see why the same prophetic discourse should contain both the veiled and the open prediction. On the relation of the LXX. version to the Hebrew, see Introduction.

And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations.
(13) Which Jeremiah hath prophesied . . .—Here again we have the trace of an interpolation. In the LXX. the words appear detached, as a title, and are followed by Jeremiah 49:35-39, and the other prophecies against the nations which the Hebrew text places at the end of the book (Jeremiah 46-51). The words “all that is written in this book” are manifestly the addition of a scribe. (See Introduction,)

For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands.
(14) Shall serve themselves of them.—Better, shall make them their servants. The English “serve themselves” (a Gallicism in common use in the seventeenth century), which occurs again in Jeremiah 27:7, is now ambiguous, and hardly conveys the force of the original. What is meant is that the law of retribution will in due time be seen in its action upon those who were now masters of the world. The thought is the same as that expressed in the familiar “Græcia capta ferum victorem cepit” of Horace (Ep II. i., 156).

For thus saith the LORD God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it.
(15) For thus saith the Lord God.—In the LXX. this is preceded by Jeremiah 46-51, which are in their turn in a different order from that of the Hebrew.

The wine cup of this fury.—Literally, the cup of wine, even this fury, or, better, this wrath.

And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them.
(16) They shall drink . . .—The words describe what history has often witnessed, the panic-terror of lesser nations before the onward march of a great conqueror—they are as if stricken with a drunken madness, and their despair or their resistance is equally infatuated. The imagery is one familiar in earlier prophets. (Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22; Habakkuk 2:16; Psalm 60:5; Psalm 75:8; Ezekiel 23:31.)

Then took I the cup at the LORD'S hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the LORD had sent me:
(17) Then took I the cup . . .—The words describe the act of the prophet as in the ecstasy of vision. One by one the nations are made to drink of that cup of the wrath of Jehovah of which His own country was to have the first and fullest draught. It is a strange example of the literalism of minds incapable of entering into the poetry of a prophet’s work, that one commentator (Michaelis) has supposed that the prophet offered an actual goblet of wine to the ambassadors of the states named, who were then, as he imagines, assembled at Jerusalem, as in Jeremiah 27:3.

To wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, an hissing, and a curse; as it is this day;
(18) As it is this day.—The words are not in the LXX., and may probably have been added after the prediction had received its fulfilment in the final capture of Jerusalem and the desolation of the country. Here, as before in Jeremiah 25:13, we trace the hand of a transcriber. It will be noted that the prophet begins with the judgment about to fall on his own people, and then passes on from “the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17) to those that are without.

Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people;
(19) Pharaoh king of Egypt . . .—The list of the nations begins, it will be seen, from the south and proceeds northwards; those that lay on the east and west being named, as it were, literally, according to their position. The Pharaoh of the time was Nechoh, who had been defeated at Carchemish.

And all the mingled people, and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines, and Ashkelon, and Azzah, and Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod,
(20) All the mingled people.—The word is all but identical with that used in Exodus 12:38 of the “mixed multitude” that accompanied the Israelites from Egypt, and in Nehemiah 13:3 of the alien population of Jerusalem. It occurs again in Jeremiah 25:24, Jeremiah 50:37, and Ezekiel 30:5, and is applied to the tribes of mixed races who were, in various degrees tributary to the state in connection with which they are named. Here the word probably refers to the Ionians or Carians whom Psammitichus, the father of Nechoh, had settled at Bubastis, and who served in his army as auxiliaries. (Herod. ii. 152, 154.)

Uz.—A district of Edom, famous as the scene of the great drama of the book of Job. It is commonly identified with the Arabia Deserta of classical geography. (See Notes on Job 1:1; Genesis 10:23.)

The land of the Philistines.—The four cities that follow belong to the same region. “Azzah” is the same as Gaza, the translators of the Authorised Version having in this instance, and in Deuteronomy 2:23; 1 Kings 4:24, adopted this instead of the more familiar form of the LXX. and Vulgate. “Gath,” which appears in the older lists of the five lords of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:8; 1 Samuel 6:17; 1 Samuel 7:14), has disappeared, having possibly seceded from the confederacy. The “remnant of Ashdod” (the Greek Azotus) is a phrase characteristic of the prophet’s time, the Egyptian king Psammitichus having captured it, after a siege of twenty-nine years, in B.C. 630. (Herod. ii. 157.)

Edom, and Moab, and the children of Ammon,
And all the kings of Tyrus, and all the kings of Zidon, and the kings of the isles which are beyond the sea,
(22) The isles which are beyond the sea.—Better, island. The Hebrew word is in the singular, and is properly, as in the margin, a “region by the sea-side”—a “coast-land,” and thus wider in its extent than our “island.” Here the position in which it occurs tends to identify it either with Cyprus or the coast of Cilicia, or Phœnician colonies generally in the Mediterranean. Cyprus seems the most probable of these.

Dedan, and Tema, and Buz, and all that are in the utmost corners,
(23) Dedan, and Tema, and Buz.—From the west we pass again to the east, the first two districts lying to the south-east of Edom, the last probably in the same region. For Dedan see Genesis 10:7; Genesis 25:3; Genesis 25:2; 1 Chronicles 1:9; 1 Chronicles 1:32; Isaiah 21:13; Ezekiel 25:13. For Tema, on the modern pilgrims’ road from Damascus to Mecca, see Isaiah 21:14; Job 6:19. For Buz see Genesis 22:21. The fact that the “travelling companies of Dedanim” (Isaiah 21:13) carried on the trade between Tyre and Arabia (Ezekiel 27:15) accounts in part for their mention here.

All that are in the utmost corners.—The marginal reading gives the true meaning—all that have the corners of their temples shorn. (See Note on Jeremiah 9:26.) The words point to the nomad tribes of Kedar, who were distinguished by this peculiarity. For “mingled people,” see Note on Jeremiah 25:20. The genealogies of Genesis 10, Genesis 25:1-16, and 1 Chronicles 1 point to a great intermingling of Cushite and Semitic races in these regions.

And all the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the desert,
(24) All the kings of Arabia.—The same phrase occurs in 1 Kings 10:15, and is used for the nomadic tribes bordering on Palestine rather than in the wider sense of classical geographers.

And all the kings of Zimri, and all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes,
(25) Zimri.—The name occurs nowhere else in the Bible or out of it as the name of a country. It is possibly connected with Zimran, the eldest son of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:2), and points, therefore—as does its position here—to a nomad tribe in Arabia lying between the Red Sea, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. The name Zabram occurs in Greek geographers as that of a city on the Red Sea west of Mecca, and there was a Zimara on the Upper Euphrates. “Elam,” properly applied to the region of which Susa was the capital (Daniel 8:2), was extended by the Hebrew writers to the whole of Persia. (See Notes on Genesis 10:22; Genesis 14:1-12; Isaiah 21:2.) As in the last of these references, it is coupled here with Media.

And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.
(26) The kings of the north.—The term is used generally (the Jews knowing comparatively little of the detailed geography of that region, the Grog, Magog, Meshech, and Tubal of Ezekiel 38, 39), as in Jeremiah 1:14, for the Scythians and other nations lying between the Caspian Sea and the Tigris. In the corresponding passage of Jeremiah 51:27, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz are specially named.

The kingdoms of the world.—The words are, of course, limited by the horizon of the prophet’s vision. As the “world” of the New Testament writers was the Roman Empire, so in the life of Jeremiah it was identical with that of Babylon. (Comp. Daniel 2:38; Daniel 4:22.)

The king of Sheshach.—The name, which obviously is, from its position, the culminating point of the whole prophecy, is found only here and in Jeremiah 51:41. No city or country bearing this name is mentioned in the Old Testament or in any ancient writer. The traditional Rabbinic explanation is beyond doubt the true one. We have here the earliest known example of the use of a cypher-writing to disguise the meaning of what was written from all but the initiated. The cypher in this instance, known by the significant name of ATBASH (i.e., A taking the place of T, and T of A, B of SH, and SH of B, and so on), consisted in the use of the Hebrew alphabet in an inverted order, thus giving SHeSHaCH as an equivalent for BaBeL. This, then, was the crowning mystery reserved to the last. The Chaldæan kingdom was to do its work as the scourge of God upon the nations; but it was simply an instrument in His hand, as the Assyrians had been in their day (Isaiah 10:15); and when the work was done, the law of a righteous retribution would be felt by it and by its rulers. It adds to the point of the enigma that the word Sheshach would suggest to an Hebrew, taking its probable etymology, the idea of “crouching” or “sinking.” It may be noted (1) that the use of such a cypher seems to belong to the same mental characteristics as the prominence of the Hebrew alphabet in the acrostic structure of the Lamentations; (2) that the name is omitted by the LXX. both here and in Jeremiah 51:41; and (3) that another instance of the same cypher is found in Jeremiah 51:1. The second fact is presumptive evidence that it was not found in the copy which the Greek translators had before them; and the natural inference from this is that there were two editions of the prophecy even in the prophet’s time—one with and the other without the enigmatic word, the latter being probably the earlier of the two, the former adding, for the comfort of Israel, at once the limits of their exile (Jeremiah 25:14), and this intimation (so veiled that the Chaldæans, if they came across it, would not be likely to understand its meaning) of the way in which it would at last be brought to its close. The use of the cypher has, however, been questioned by some writers, who refer the name to shishaki, a possible form of the name of the moon-god of the Chaldæans (Rawlinson: Herod, i., p. 616). If the existence of any obscure region bearing the name could be proved, it would still be perfectly compatible with the use of the cypher, as veiling its true significance. Other meanings for the word, such as “the warlike city,” “the king’s palace,” have been suggested by recent scholars.

Therefore thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Drink ye, and be drunken, and spue, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.
(27) Drink ye, and be drunken . . .—The bold imagery points, like that of Jeremiah 25:16, to the terror and dismay which made joint action impossible, and reduced the nations whom it affected to a helpless impotence. The word most alien to our modern feeling—“spue”—is significant, as implying that the spoilers of Israel should be spoiled. They should be made, to use a word which expresses essentially the same thought, to disgorge their prey.

And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink.
(28) Ye shall certainly drink.—Literally, Drinking, ye shall drink.

For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.
(29) I begin to bring evil . . .?—The thought is the same as that of 1 Peter 4:17, “If judgment shall begin at the house of God . . .?” If this were His chastisement of those who were His chosen people, it followed à fortiori that those who were less favoured and had less claims should not escape. For them, as for Judah, the one wise and safe course was to accept their punishment and submit. (Comp. Jeremiah 49:12.)

Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, The LORD shall roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation; he shall mightily roar upon his habitation; he shall give a shout, as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth.
(30) He shall mightily roar upon his habitation.—The use of the same English word for two Hebrew words of very different meaning is here singularly infelicitous. The first “habitation” is the dwelling-place of Jehovah, from which the thunders of His wrath are heard. The second is the “pasture” or dwelling-place of the flock and its shepherds, as in Jeremiah 6:2; Jeremiah 10:25; Psalm 79:7, upon whom the storm falls. Possibly, under its association with this new word, the roaring becomes to the prophet’s mind as that of the lion which attacks the flock. The same bold imagery for the Divine judgments meets us in Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2; Amos 3:8.

A shout, as they that tread the grapes.—The image is reproduced from Isaiah 63:3. The “shout” of those who tread the wine-press, crushing the grapes beneath their feet (Isaiah 16:10), is as the victorious war-cry of the Lord of Hosts, working through human conquerors, and crushing the nations of the earth in His avenging wrath.

A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD.
(31) A noise.—i.e., the tumult of an advancing army (Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 17:12).

A controversy.—The term properly denotes a legal process, like the “pleading” of Jeremiah 2:9; Jeremiah 2:35, rather than a debate or discussion, and is therefore rightly followed by the technical term “will plead” or “judge.” Jehovah appears, so to speak, as the Accuser in the suit in which He is also the supreme Judge.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.
(32) Whirlwind.—The word, as in Jeremiah 23:19, is more generic, a tempest. The storm is seen as it were rising from the “coasts”—i.e., the sides or horizon of the earth, as in Jeremiah 6:22—and spreading over all the nations.

And the slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.
(33) They shall not be lamented . . .—As in other pictures of slaughter (Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 16:4) the omission of the usual rites of sepulture is brought in as an aggravation of the wretchedness. The corpses of the slain are to lie rotting on the ground. The phrase “slain of the Lord” reproduces Isaiah 66:16.

Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel.
(34) Howl, ye shepherds.—The idea of the flock suggested in the “habitation” or “pasture” of Jeremiah 25:30 is here expanded. The “shepherds” are, as usual, the rulers of the people (Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 22:22, et al.).

Wallow yourselves in the ashes.—The words in italics have probably been added to bring the passage into conformity with Jeremiah 6:26, but they are not needed, and the interpretation is unauthorised. Better, therefore, roll on the ground. By some interpreters the word is rendered “sprinkle yourselves.” The “principal of the flock” are the “strong ones,” i.e., the best and fattest of the rams, denoting figuratively the princes and captains of the people.

And of your dispersions.—The Hebrew text seems faulty, and a slight alteration, now generally accepted, gives, and I will scatter you.

Like a pleasant vessel.—The sudden change of metaphor is somewhat startling, as judged by our rules of rhetoric; but the poets and prophets of Israel wrote without the fear of criticism, and used each image that presented itself, if it was fit for its immediate purpose, without caring much for continuity. The thought of the scattered flock suggested the idea of a dispersion or breaking-up of another kind, even that of the “pleasant vessel” (literally, the vessel of desire, i.e., a vase made as for kingly and honourable uses), falling with a crash and shivered into fragments, which Jeremiah had presented to the people in his acted parable and spoken words in Jeremiah 19:10-11, and in Jeremiah 22:28. The LXX. translators give like the chosen rams, as if anxious to avoid the mixed metaphor, and venturing on a conjectural emendation of the text.

And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape.
A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture.
(36) A voice of the cry . . . shall be heard.—Here again the insertion of the words in italics is a change for the worse, and reduces the dramatic vividness of the Hebrew to the tamest prose. The prophet speaks as if he actually heard the “cry of the shepherds”—i.e., the princes—and the howling of the “principal of the flocks”—i.e., of the captains under them. The work of spoiling was begun.

And the peaceable habitations are cut down because of the fierce anger of the LORD.
(37) Peaceable habitations.—Better, as before (Jeremiah 25:30), peaceful pastures.

He hath forsaken his covert, as the lion: for their land is desolate because of the fierceness of the oppressor, and because of his fierce anger.
(38) He hath forsaken his covert . . .—The image of Jeremiah 25:30 is reproduced. The thunder of Jehovah’s wrath is as the roaring of the lion (Amos 3:8). He is as the lion leaving its hiding-place in the forest, and going forth to do its work of vengeance.

Because of the fierceness of the oppressor.—A slight alteration, adopted by many commentators, gives “because of the sword of oppression,” as in Jeremiah 46:16; Jeremiah 50:16. The word for “oppressor” or “oppression” also means “dove,” and is so taken by the Vulg., a facie iræ columbæ, and it has been stated that this bird was blazoned on the standards of the Babylonians (Diod. Sic. ii. 4), and so had become a symbol of their power. In Jeremiah 46:16; Jeremiah 50:16 the LXX., which here gives “the great sword,” reads “the Greek sword,” as though the Hebrew word (Iona) meant Javan or Ionia. That meaning is, of course, out of the question here. On the whole there seems no reason for altering the English version, though the precise combination of words is an unusual one.

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