Jonah 4:1-4 (A Gracious and Merciful God)

Jonah 4:1-4
A Gracious and Merciful God

A story is told about when George Bush senior was in office. His wife Barbara and George W. were talking about religion. George W. held the view that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that apart from Him, no one can be saved.

Barbara, not understanding the nature of God, or the fallen state of man, remarked that surely God in his grace would have a plan for the sincere followers of other religions. Eventually she said to one of the White House staff, “Get me Billy Graham.”

The operators got hold of him and Barbara told him what they were discussing. Billy’s answer was that as a believer in the New Testament, he had to agree that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that is through personal faith in Him.

The amazing part of this to me isn’t Billy’s response – it ought to be obvious to anyone who’s ever even skimmed the New Testament. What I find hard to believe is that Barbara Bush was unaware of this – and for several reasons

First, she was supposedly raised in a Christian setting. That means that for her entire life, no one properly explained to her either the message of Jesus, or the doom of those who fail to accept Him. And secondly, having consulted with Billy Graham, she must have been familiar with his sermons. Her disagreement with George W. shows that despite hearing him, she never listened to his words.

Let there be no mistake, here at the Superior Word, we boldly and unapologetically proclaim that the Bible is true, and it says that there is one way and one way only to be reconciled to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. The Bible is abundantly clear on this.

One needs to dismiss the entire premise of the Bible to come to any other conclusion. If you’re struggling with this, or if you’re unsure that this is what the Bible teaches, please meet with me, and we’ll go through the verses which clearly and unambiguously state this.

So far in chapters 1 thru 3, we’ve seen Jonah called to preach, he fled, he was punished, and he was restored. After this he got about the business which he should have done when God first called him to preach to the Ninevites.

Today we’ll see a typical troubled human being – filled with self-pitying, animosity, and selfishness. But by using a person like Jonah, we can better and more clearly see the contrast between man and God. He is patient, giving, and abundantly merciful.

Text Verse: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: ‘You said, “Woe is me now! For the LORD has added grief to my sorrow. I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.”’ Jeremiah 45:2, 3

Baruch’s self-pitying is similar to that of Jonah, but God responded firmly and yet tenderly to both Baruch and Jonah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe and is one of the people in the Bible whom archaeology has actually substantiated as being a real, historical person. In 1975, a clay bulla containing his seal and name was excavated at the “burnt house” – a site of archaeological research. In 1996, a second bulla was found with the same seal, but it also had a fingerprint, possibly of Baruch himself, just imagine that…

In our text verse today, Baruch was completely despondent over the tragedies occurring around him as Jerusalem was being destroyed by her enemies. So much so, that he cried out in misery. The Lord responded that because the nation was being punished collectively, he couldn’t expect that he would lie in roses while everything else was falling apart around him.

The Lord said to him, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the LORD. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.” Jeremiah 45:5

I bring this up because whether it was Baruch, or Jonah, or you, or me – we are all subject to weakness and despair and we are also all subject to whatever ill comes upon our land. When the ball drops, and eventually it will, we need to not seek great things for ourselves. It very well may be that the rapture won’t happen until some point long after a complete economic collapse. And so we need to be prepared to keep our eyes on the Lord through good times and bad.

This is one of the constant messages that we find in the pages of the Bible. It is a book of hope, but also a book of warning – always to be prepared. Such are the lessons which are found in His superior word. And so let’s turn to that precious word once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

There is no way I could fit all eleven verses of Chapter 4 into one sermon, and so I had to divide them up. And so today’s sermon is a few pages shorter than normal, and verses 1-4 comprise our only section today.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 

va’yera el yownah raah gedowlah va’yihar lo – “And it was evil to Jonah, displeased whoppingly, and he was kindled with anger.” The timing of the entire fourth chapter is argued over by scholars almost ad nauseum. What appears to be the case is that Jonah preached his message throughout the forty-day period and then left the city only to see that his words of pending destruction did not come about. Verse 1 follows after that thought, and so Chapter 4 is a description of what occurred between the Lord and Jonah after the fortieth day. Of this first verse, many scholars cite John Calvin who erringly states –

He connected his own ministry with the glory of God, and rightly, because it depended on His authority. Jonah, when he entered Nineveh, did not utter his cry as a private individual, but professed himself to be sent by God. Now, if the proclamation of Jonah is found to be false, the disgrace will fall upon the author of the call himself, namely on God. There is no doubt, therefore, that Jonah took it ill that the name of God was exposed to the revilings of the heathen, as though He terrified without cause.”

Calvin is wrong. Jonah cared far less about the glory of God at this point than in his own personal condition. This is perfectly evident from the context of the story. From his run upon his original calling by the Lord, to the coming words of this chapter, he has demonstrated that it is he himself, and not God, who is the center of his thoughts. Remember how we ended last week –

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” Jonah 3:10

Some years ago, one of my friends posted on her Facebook wall “It’s OK to get angry with God, he can take it.” Is it ok? It depends on how you translate “with.” If it indicates being angry “at” God, then the answer is, “No.” If you mean, “along with,” then the answer is, “Yes.” What angers God should anger us. As long as our anger is not vented so much at Him as it is to Him or along with Him, then we do not err.

If you’ve ever see the movie “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall, then you might remember a scene where he was up late in the night venting at the top of his voice, “Lord, I’m angry. I don’t understand why this is happening. I’ve been your servant since I was a little boy and I’m angry, Lord.”

His mother, played by June Carter Cash, just lay in bed enjoying his rant. When a neighbor called to complain about the yelling, she just smiled and said that her boy was venting to the Lord and then she hung up. Venting, as long as it does not call into question the Lord’s right to conduct His affairs as He sees fit, is perfectly fine.

Jonah was angry at the Lord because he felt foolish that he’d been called to preach that Nineveh would be destroyed. But if the people repented, he’d knew he’d look like he was a false prophet and a buffoon.

Questioning God’s wisdom isn’t unique to the Old Testament. In Acts we read about a skeptic of the Lord’s decision named Ananias. He had a vision of the Lord and was told to go to a certain place and put his hands on Paul to heal him. Instead, he responds as if the Lord didn’t know what he was doing –

“‘“Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”’” Acts 9:10-16

God has no idea what He’s doing… we’re right and He must be wrong. When we get the urge to question His decisions, we need to remember what He said to Isaiah…

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9

God is infinitely wiser than we are. No matter how much we know or ever can know, it is infinitely less than what He knows. When the Bible instructs us, it’s because He knows what is best for His little creatures.

To Jonah now, what has transpired appears to him to be the highest form of disgrace. At this point, like when he first ran from the Lord, he is completely self-consumed. He has forgotten who commissioned him, and even who it is that created him.

He has become so enraged that he sits there in his own mental pity party. His reputation! Oh, he will look like a fool when nothing happens. Poor Jonah. He must bear that burden. His commission as a prophet! “Oh my! Prophets of Israel will be mocked and scorned by the heathen nations!” Poor Jonah. He must bear that disgrace.

Nineveh gets away with murder while Israel is bound to the minutest details of the law! My great country (oooh, and thus me!) carry such a torch. We have to be the shining example, but it is all for naught apparently. Poor Jonah.

And worst of all… “I am a Hebrew! I carry with me the fathers, the oracles, the traditions, and the name. These are just unworthy Gentiles who need to be eradicated as vermin, not spared like wayward children.” Poor Jonah.

In his attitude, he is treating the Lord’s mercy, not as a divine attribute, but a divine failing. What should radiate out in perfection, is seen to him to radiate out in fault. How could the Lord, who had given such noble and strict guidelines to Israel, forgive such terrible and weighty transgressions?

He is looking at a very small part of the picture, and he is failing to see Israel, the law, and the office of prophet in their proper context. And above all, his attitude, in essence, places his personal emotions and feelings above the sovereignty of God who alone decides the direction of His will towards His creatures.

In fairness to Jonah, we all do this to some extent. Any time we question God’s good intent because of displeasing events which surround us, we assume that we know more, or at least better, than He does. This we cannot do.

The pattern of Jonah’s anger and jealousy is repeated in the book of Acts. The Jews saw the efforts of the apostles in converting the Gentiles to Christ, and they stewed over it, fought against it, and went to the point of physical attacks in order to quench it. They threw a national pity party at the goodness of the Lord in calling the detestable enemy to share in the favor that they alone believed they had earned, and which they alone deserved.

What is surprising about the words here are that Jonah, if he is the true author of the book, does not attempt to hide his state in the writing. If it was some unknown Jew who wrote the book, it still doesn’t change the openness of recording Jonah’s self-consumed state. He, a Hebrew and a prophet of God, is being fully exposed for the attitude he bore at this time.

The desire of Jonah, for the destruction of Nineveh, is not unjust in and of itself. Destruction of sin, and thus the sinner, is what will happen when it is not repented of. Jonah’s sin is disputing with the Lord who intended for Nineveh to repent and be saved. And what an amazing sin considering the magnitude of mercy which has already been monumentally manifested in him. He is a miserable man mired in mourning at the ministry meant to magnify his Master and not merely him.

So he prayed to the Lord,

va’yitpalel el Yehovah – “And he prayed unto Yehovah.” The word “pray” here is palal. It is the same word which was used in Jonah 2:1 when he was in the fish’s belly, and it is the last time it will be used in Scripture. At the time that he realized he was delivered from death, he made his prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, even from the belly of the fish.

Now, he prays again, but this time, instead of thanksgiving, he is in a state of vexed rage. The vexer is himself now vexed. In the belly of the fish, his words were orderly, calm, and well thought out. Here, his words will be almost the opposite. Instead of thankfulness to the Lord for his deliverance from death, they will petition him for it. John Gill rightly states that –

“…prayer should be fervent indeed, but not like that of a man in a fever; there should be a warmth and ardour of affection in it, but it should be without wrath, as well as without doubting.”

2 (con’t) and said, “Ah, Lord,

va’yomar annah Yehovah – “…and said, I pray, Yehovah,” This is the last of thirteen times that the word annah, or I beseech You, is found in Scripture. It is a contraction of two other words, ahava, meaning “love,” and na, meaning “please.” In essence, “I beg of you.” It is a begging which would come from the soul of the man in a deep and heartfelt petition.

It was used by the sailors in Jonah 1:14 when begging for the Lord to not hold them guilty for Jonah’s blood when they cast him off the boat. Now, it is used by Jonah in exactly the opposite manner. They had asked for life in exchange for taking life. He is asking for death because of the granting of life.

The level of mental confusion because of his perception of the world around him is astonishing, and yet not uncommon. To this day, the Jews in general cannot perceive of the Lord granting His mercy to the Gentiles through a mere act of faith, while at the same time holding them accountable for their own infractions against His law.

2 (con’t) was not this what I said when I was still in my country?

ha-lo zeh debarti ad heyoti al admati – “the not this I said while I when I was in my ground?” Exactly what he said is not recorded, but it can be inferred from the story. He had spoken to the Lord exactly that which came about. He understood that the word of the Lord he was asked to speak would result in the repentance of the people.

This shows quite clearly that John Calvin’s assessment which I cited above is wholly incorrect. Jonah was not concerned about the glory of God, except possibly in its display through divine judgment. It was certainly not in whether His word might fail. The call was one expecting repentance, not expressing assured judgment.

In what seems a curious choice of words, Jonah uses the term adamah, or ground, instead of eretz, or land, here. Adamah is generally used to indicate the soil, coming from the word adom, or red. It is the same word from which adam, or “man” is derived. It is the word used in the early Genesis account to indicate the adamah, or ground, from which adam, or man, was taken when he was created.

The word is deeply intertwined with man, creation, and redemption. It is used by Ezekiel almost exclusively in his book. He speaks to a people who are in exile and out of favor with the Lord, but the Lord time and time again promises a restoration to them, to the adamah.

On the other hand, when Cain was punished for killing Abel, he was cursed in the adamah which received his brother’s blood so that the adamah would no longer yield its strength to him, and he was driven from the face of the adamah. What was originally intended to bring forth life, would not.

It is in Genesis, as in Ezekiel, as in Jonah, all pointing to the Adam, or Man, who would come from Adam, the first man, who came from the adamah or red ground; it is referring to the Messiah. Jonah’s choice of words is purposeful.

He is conveying an understanding that while he was in his adamah that life would be the result of his cry unto Nineveh. But how could they be given life when they were not of the adamah that he was derived from. He could not understand the spiritual connection that these Gentiles could have to the Lord. The Messiah was of and for the Jews, was He not?

Surely he knew better than God about His plans and intentions for the people of the world, and these Gentiles were NOT a part of that plan. Duh! They, like Cain, were not destined for Eden, but for banishment and exile from the Lord’s presence. Had the Lord forgotten such a simple thing!

2 (con’t) Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish;

al ken qidamti livroakh tarshishah – “Because so I hastened to flee (to) Tarshish.” As we saw in Chapter 1, the meaning of the name Tarshish is debated, but to a Hebrew audience, it might have appeared to indicate two words which together mean “white dove,” or “dove white.” Jonah flitted about to find a place to flee to and his eyes alighted on a place which bears the traits of who he is.

As I explained then, Tarshish was a descendant of Japheth, the second son of Noah, and the one who was given a like-blessing to Shem with the words –

May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant.” Genesis 9:27

In contrast to this, Nineveh was a city built by their ancestor Nimrod, a descendant of Ham, Noah’s youngest. He received no such blessing. He had done something perverted to his father, and so his father withheld any blessing upon him, and instead cursed Ham’s own youngest son, Canaan.

Jonah saw it better to flee to one who would dwell in the tents of Shem, than to preach repentance to a line of such disgraceful people as those in Nineveh. Surely the Lord had forgotten such a simple thing!

2 (con’t) for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness,

ki yadati ki attah el khannun v’rakhum erek apayim v’rav khesed – “For I know for You God gracious and merciful slow of nostril and great covenant loyalty.” These words, though not a quote, are closely reflective of the words of the Lord Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6 –

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…’” Exodus 34:6

Jonah acknowledges that Yehovah is el, or God; the mighty One. From that, he then says that He is gracious. The word is khannun. It is an adjective used for the last of 13 times. In all instances, it is only used when speaking of the Lord. When it is used, it gives the sense of hearing the cries of those who are vexed and cry out to Him. It is as if He is unable to hear such cries without responding to their need.

Next he says, v’rakhum, “and merciful.” It is an adjective which is also seen for the last of 13 times. And again, it is only used when speaking of the Lord. It is from the same root as rekhem, meaning “womb.” One can see how just as a mother cares for the child in her womb, so the Lord is compassionate, and thus merciful.

He next states that He is erek apayim. It is at times translated as “longsuffering,” or as here “slow to anger.” He is willing to put up with the grief His people give Him without immediately destroying them. The word arek is almost always used of the Lord’s slowness at being aroused to anger.

The word apayim means “nostrils.” This gives a more vivid description for us to understand. He is slow to getting in an angry huff where the nostrils flare and snort. It is His nature to retain a calm composure even when anger is what should be anticipated. Jonah himself was the recipient of this divine favor. Instead of a raging Lord, he was shown great compassion and mercy.

After this, He proclaims v’rav khesed, “and abounding in goodness.” The word khesed is deep and rich. It is a word often translated as “lovingkindness.” It indicates favor, merciful kindness, and even pity. Jonah notes that He doesn’t just possess this, but He possess it in abundance.

2 (con’t) One who relents from doing harm.

v’nikham al ha’raah – “…and comforting concerning the evil.” The word nakham means to conform or to console. It comes from a primitive root and it properly means, “to sigh.” When one is angry at someone else and they apologize, if the apology is accepted, the one forgiving will sigh. “Ahhh, ok, I forgive you.”

Jonah says that the Lord bears this quality and will sigh concerning the evil when repented of. There is an article in front of evil which almost personifies it. The people are infected with it, but when the infection is cast off, the Lord sighs and stands back from destruction.

In Exodus 32, the Lord waxed hot against Israel for the sin of the golden calf, but through Moses’ mediation, He was said to relent, or sigh, concerning their destruction. Jonah knew the story as did all Israelites, and he understood this amazing quality of the Lord.

Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me,

v’attah Yehovah qakh na et naphshi – “And now Yehovah take, I pray, my soul.” This particular verse shows the perverse nature of us when we’re despondent, but not suicidal. Think this through – “Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah asks the Lord to take his life. Here he is practically blaming the Lord for his calamity and so in maybe a spiteful revenge, he asks Him to take his life. If things were really bad, he’d simply just jump off a cliff, but because he’s unhappy with what the Lord has done, he puts the onus on Him to end his life… as if that would make everything alright.

In being honest, how many of us do this almost constantly, say two or three thousand times a week. We tell the Lord how nice it would be if the rapture were today, as if what He’s given us here is so bad that we deserve – out of the billions of people on earth, to be granted a fate-sealing relief from our woes.

What I mean is, if the Lord comes today, millions and even billions of people will enter the tribulation period without ever knowing God’s wonderful gift. For me, I won’t to have to spend the many hours it takes to type up another sermon. For any of us, we won’t have to worry about what we’re going to do to make a living in the years ahead.

How many of you feel the same way? “Oh, I wish you’d come today Lord Jesus.” In essence we’re doing exactly what Jonah did – please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. In our case, it may be true, but it shows that our priorities are not geared towards where we are right now, and this is where the Lord has us… right now.

3 (con’t) for it is better for me to die than to live!”

mimeni ki tov mo-ti me’khaiai – “To me than me for good my death than my life.” Jonah’s message has brought about the sparing of an entire city of people, but that means less to him than saving face in the eyes of the very people who have been spared. He was given a commission, and he carried it out grudgingly.

Instead of rejoicing that he had performed his task obediently and successfully, he moans over the very success the Lord had determined to come about.

The words of Jonah now cannot be left without seeing in them a contrasting comparison to those of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, the great victory of Elijah, the prophet of the Lord, over the 450 prophets of Baal had come about. With no more than a quiet call upon the Lord, fire was sent down from heaven to consume the offering he had laid upon the altar.

With that, the hearts of the people were turned back to the Lord with the mighty cry, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” After that, the prophets of Baal were seized and executed, and the rains returned to Israel after a three and one half year drought.

But no sooner had the victory been won, than Jezebel had threatened to take his life. Upon hearing her words, he fled for his life into the wilderness where he sat down under a broom tree, praying that he might die –

It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 1 Kings 19:4

Elijah’s prayer for the Lord to take his life was because he perceived that he had failed in his task. The wicked queen who directed the prophets of Baal still lived and had not repented of her wicked ways.

In contrast to this, the king of Nineveh had stepped down from his throne in humility before the true God. Jonah’s warnings had turned the wicked from their wicked ways, but this was of less moment to him than his own perceived superiority over these heathen people.

Martin Luther in his words concerning Jonah’s flight states, “…he was hostile to the city of Nineveh, and still held a Jewish and carnal view of God.” This is exactly what the story is telling us. It is a picture of the larger world where the Jews do not look for repentance from sin and salvation for the Gentile world as something the Lord would offer.

Nor do they consider repentance from sin as necessary for themselves. As the people of God, they believe that sin sticks to the Gentiles and cannot be cleansed off, but sin does not affect their righteousness in His eyes because of His selection of them as His people. Like a Teflon coating, sin supposedly slips right off of them.

The story of Jonah tells us exactly the opposite is true. God’s mercy can cleanse the vilest sinner, but God’s law can make none perfect apart from One who is already perfect under God’s law.

*Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

va’yomer Yehovah ha’hetev kharah lakh – “And said Yehovah, the good, burning anger you?” These words are variously translated, but almost all of them give the sense of the NKJV – “Is it right for you to be angry.” However, only Young’s gives a completely different view by asking, “Is doing good displeasing to thee?”

There is a mile of difference between the two translations, and it would be tempting to ignore the one rebel-translated version, but it is haunting to do so for a multitude of reasons. The coming seven verses finish the book of Jonah, and they have some interesting things going on in them which tell us that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

After struggling with my own limited translation which leaned towards Young’s and away from the majority, I spent an hour with Sergio going over these few words. In the end, translating hetev as “doing good” is correct, and so the words are to be translated as “Then the Lord said, ‘Is the doing (of) good a reason for you to be furious?’”

That is the question the Lord asked Jonah, and it is the question I leave you with today. “Is doing good a reason for you to be furious?” Ask yourself this as if the Lord Himself is asking you. The reason why, is because He has shown you what is good, O man. And He asks you to be obedient in it.

For Jonah, he was asked the question, and his response is, at this time, left unsaid. When we return for our final verses next week, we will enter into one of the most enigmatic passages in the entire Bible. Far too often, we are left asking, “Why does the story end as it does?” The answers are in the words, and the words give us a picture of Christ and His work. We’ll hope you will join in for one last taste of this masterpiece of literature and wonder.

And as I do each week, I’d like to take a moment to explain to you the overall message of Scripture, a portion of which is found in the sparing of Nineveh. It is God’s grace to the undeserving souls which have risen up and offended Him in a countless number of ways. That grace is found in the giving of His Son for our transgressions. It is found in Jesus Christ.

Closing Verse:  “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:23, 24

Next Week: Jonah 4:5-11 The enigma will keep you guessin’… (The Law and Grace – An Object Lesson) (Our 10th and final Jonah Sermon)

The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. Even if a deep ocean rages against you and is ready to swallow you up, He can send delivery to you in the most remarkable of ways. So follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.

A Gracious and Merciful God

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly
And he became angry

So he prayed to the Lord, and said
Ah, Lord, was not this what I said
When I was still in my country?
Therefore I previously to Tarshish fled

For I know that You are a gracious and merciful God
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness
One who relents from doing harm
Instead, You would turn and bless

Therefore now, O Lord
Please take my life from me
For it is better for me to die than to live!”
This I feel assuredly

Then the Lord said
Is it right for you to be angry instead?”
How is it Lord, that our hearts are bent on evil and away from You
We turn to the left rather than to the right

We follow after wickedness, searching out what’s new
We pursue it rising early, and late into the night
But when grace is found, we rejoice on that day
We raise our hands in victory and sing our song to You

Through the cross of Calvary, our sins are washed away
And upon us comes true life, wonderful and new
But when we see others, caught in their sin
We turn away as if it was never true with us

We smile upon the day when they will be done in
Forgetting that we once were cleansed by the blood of Jesus
Help us Lord to learn the lesson of Jonah as well
That we should have pity on the lost and wayward soul

Better to share the love of Christ than see them cast into hell
Better to see that sinner added to heaven’s roll
Grant us a heart to remember where we once were
Help us to remember this throughout all of our days

So that by our words many, many souls will be safe and secure
And together we can all sing to You songs of joy and praise

May it be so, may we speak openly about Jesus
Who came to die not for some, but for every one of us

Hallelujah and Amen…

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