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Bible Commentaries
Obadiah 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

“The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah concerning Edom: we have heard tidings from Jehovah, and an ambassador is sent among the nations, saying, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle.”

“The vision of Obadiah” This is the title of the prophecy.

“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah” This applies to the entire prophecy and need not be limited to the adjacent clause “concerning Edom,” despite the principal part of the message being primarily for that nation.

“We have heard tidings from Jehovah ..” Obadiah clearly identified his message as having originated not within himself but in the Lord God of Israel.

“An ambassador is sent among the nations” God’s instrument of humbling a proud and sinful nation is usually that of other nations who were commissioned of God to rise up and destroy the offender. Thus, it was Assyria in the case of Israel, and Babylon in the case of Judah. In this case, a confederacy of nations will destroy Edom. Historically, this judgment did not all fall at once, but in a succession of defeats by the Nabateans, the Babylonians, by Israel itself, by the Maccabees, and, finally, by the Romans in the general destruction of A.D. 70, after which Edom disappeared from history as any kind of a separate entity.

The first nine verses of Obadiah echo many of the sentiments of Jeremiah 49:7-27, but the declaration of Thompson that “Both are using an earlier oracle against Edom,”(F1) is groundless. (See the Introduction regarding this so-called “problem.”) God was the author, both of the Book of Jeremiah and of the Book of Obadiah. It should not be thought strange that God had spoken against Edom by the mouth of more than one prophet!

Verse 2

“Behold, I have made thee small among the nations: thou art greatly despised.”

The prophetic tense in this verse amounts to a prophecy that God WILL humiliate and debase Edom. At the time when God shall have cut the nation down to size, it will be greatly despised.

Verse 3

“The pride of thy heart hath deceived thee, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?”

This is a description of the national character of the Edomites, the traditional enemies of Israel, who were also their very close kinsmen, both being descended from the twin sons (Jacob and Esau) of Isaac, the Edomites being descended from Esau, and the Israelites from Jacob. The enmity between the two peoples dated from the patriarchal blessing which preferred Jacob above his brother, and from numerous encounters between the two peoples throughout their history.

“Thy pride hath deceived thee” The Edomites were justifiably proud of their fortress stronghold in the rocky vastness of Mount Seir, the rugged country south of Palestine and extending to the gulf of Aqabah. Their principal city was Petra, one of the most spectacular fortresses of the entire ancient world. Their great error was that of trusting in themselves instead of trusting in God. From the times of Jacob and Esau, their ancestor had been identified as “a fornicator and profane person” (Hebrews 12:16). It is a great mistake to suppose that God capriciously chose Jacob instead of Esau in the succession of the patriarchs, because it was definitely based upon the kind of man God knew each one to be. “Throughout the writings of the prophets Edom stands as a symbol of the earthly, non-spiritual people of the world.”(F2)

“Thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rocks” This is evidently a reference to the incredibly strong fortress of Petra, a whole city built in a narrow ravine of solid rock walls into which had been carved palaces, temples, dwellings, etc. A handful of men could have defended it against a whole army.

Verse 4

“Though thou mount on high as the eagle, and though thy nest be set among the stars, I will bring thee down from thence, saith Jehovah.”

The very high and rocky cliffs of Petra were suggestive of the lofty crags where eagles like to build their nests, but Obadiah poetically declared that even if they could have built to the stars themselves nothing could protect them from the avenging wrath of God on account of their wickedness. This beautiful and powerful language is self-explanatory.

Verse 5

“If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night (how art thou cut off?), would they not steal only till they had enough? If grape-gathers came to thee, would they not leave some gleaning grapes?”

The purpose of this verse is to suggest that the destruction coming upon Edom is to be much worse and far more complete than any mere robbery, in which something would be left. “The prophet is saying that the enemies of Edom will act much worse.”(F3) The nation shall be completely destroyed. All of this is indicated by the tiny parenthesis, “how art thou cut off?” “which points to Obadiah 1:9, indicating that the prophet was anticipating the principal fact of his denunciation.”(F4)

Verse 6

“How are the things of Esau searched! How are his hidden treasures sought out!”

The prophecy is that Edom will be thoroughly plundered and robbed of all valuables and treasures. Nothing will be overlooked. The exclamations of this verse are in reality questions of amazement. The plundering and searching out of Edom’s treasures would occur because:

“Petra was a great emporium of the Syrio-Arabian trade, where many valuables were stored, and because, with the loss of those riches, the prosperity and power of Edom would be destroyed.”(F5)

Verse 7

“All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee on thy way, even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; they that eat thy bread lay a snare under thee: there is no understanding in him.”

“All the men of thy confederacy” These allies of Edom were identified by Deane as Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon;(F6) there may have been others. But not only were the formal allies of Edom to prove undependable, the inner structure of their society itself would revolt against them and contribute to their overthrow. All of the great nations of history that have been overthrown have likewise been confronted with this defection of significant segments of their own populations.

“The men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee” Peoples who were not openly hostile to Edom and who lived peaceably with them, would, in the great crisis, take the side of the destroyers.

“They that eat thy bread lay a snare under thee” Such persons as their domestic servants and other underlings in their society would join the foe in overwhelming the proud Edomites.

“There is no understanding in him” The prophet’s address changes in this from remarks addressed to Edom to a declaration concerning him, and it is very effective. The pride and arrogance of the wealthy and powerful Edomites leave them totally and blissfully ignorant of the savage tides of hatred that flowed just beneath the surface of their precarious prosperity.

Verse 8

“Shall I not in that day, saith Jehovah, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?”

“Destroy the wise men out of Edom” “Edom was known for its wise men; Elephaz, one of the friends of Job, was a Temanite, Teman being one of the most important towns in Edom.”(F7) Celebrated as were the wise men of Edom, their counsel will be thwarted and rendered useless when the judgment falls. None of the worldly old wisdom of the dukes of Edom would do any good against the forthcoming judgment of God against the evil nation.

“And understanding out of the mount of Esau” The mount of Esau was a general name for the whole nation which occupied the rough and elevated country lying southward from the Dead Sea all the way to the gulf of Aqabah. It was also called Mount Seir, or Teman, or Petra, the latter being two of the principal cities.

Verse 9

“And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one may be cut off from the mount of Esau by slaughter.”

In this verse, the summary end of the nation was indicated. God here prophetically announced the judgment and destruction of Edom, and this is as good a place as any to glance at the subsequent history of that nation which reveals the fulfilment of the prophecy.


The fulfilment began in the Chaldean period, for Nebuchadnezzar unquestionably destroyed Edom upon the same occasion as that of his capturing Jerusalem, and five years later destroying the Moabites and Ammonites, “as unquestionably inferred from Jeremiah 49:7 ff; Ezekiel 35; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:21, and Malachi 1:3.”(F8). The Edomites were mentioned among the nations round about Judah whom God would deliver into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9). It is certain that this was accomplished, despite the fact of Josephus having failed to mention it.

By the times of Alexander the Great, Edom was of no great importance, and the accounts of Alexander’s exploits make no mention of their subjection by the fierce Macedonian, but it is certain that they shared the fate of the rest of the known world during the fourth century in falling under the dominion of Alexander’s worldwide empire.

Their continued destruction continued in the second century B.C. when John Hyrcanus subdued Edom entirely from 129 B.C., even compelling them to submit to circumcision,(F9) and submit to the Mosaic law. Some independence remained for Edom until the first century; but when they became conspicuous for cruelties perpetrated during the closing years of the Jewish state, the Romans utterly destroyed them in 70 A.D., and in the mop-up campaign afterward, utterly devastating their fortress homeland. “The few who remained were lost among the Arabs, so that the Edomites were cut off forever (Obadiah 1:10).”(F10)

Verse 10

“For the violence done to thy brother Jacob, shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever.”

(See the comments under the preceding verse.) Here the reason for God’s severe judgment is emphatically announced. It was not because of some single act of passion, but for an entire history of hatred and opposition to God’s purpose. They had refused to allow the Israelites passage through their territory into the promised land in the times of Moses (Numbers 20:14-21). They warred against Saul (1 Samuel 14:47); David conquered them and established military garrisons in their land. Solomon controlled their territory when he made Ezion-geber the seaport from which his ships sailed to Ophir (2 Chronicles 8:17-18), but they rebelled in the times of Jehoram (about the time the Book of Obadiah was written, namely, 847 B.C.). Fifty years later, Amaziah, king of Judah, was fighting the Edomites (2 Kings 14:7). When Jerusalem was destroyed, an event which the Edomites evidently participated in, it was but a short time until Nebuchadnezzar also subjugated them, along with the Moabites and Ammonites. Under the Persian empire, the country of the Edomites became a province called Idumea, and many of the Idumeans became prominent in later Jewish history, Herod the Great being an Idumean. It does not appear that any redeeming spirituality ever marked any of the entire race. All the Herods were Idumeans.

Verse 11

“In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that strangers carried away his substance, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them.”

Here is a clear reference to a past event of Jerusalem’s capture by foreigners, and at which time the Edomites stood with the invaders. Our interpretation identifies that occasion with the sack of Jerusalem by the Philistines and the Arabians. (See 2 Chronicles 21:17; Joel 3:3; and Nahum 3:10.) Note that nothing is said here of the destruction of the temple or of the carrying away of captives, events associated with the ruin of the city by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The capture in view here took place before the times of Obadiah.

Verses 12-14

“But look not thou on the day of thy brother in the day of his disaster, and rejoice not over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither speak proudly in the day of distress. Enter not into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yea, look not thou on their affliction in the day of their calamity, neither lay ye hands on their substance in the day of their calamity. And stand thou not in the crossway to cut off those of his that escape; and deliver not up those of his that remain in the day of distress.”

These three verses have been subject to radically different interpretations. The problem lies in the use of strong, repeated, negative imperatives as follows:

“Look not thou on the day” Obadiah 1:12

“Rejoice not over the children of Judah” Obadiah 1:12

“Enter not into the gate” Obadiah 1:13

“Look not thou on their affliction” Obadiah 1:13

“Neither lay ye hands on their substance” Obadiah 1:13

“Stand thou not in the crossway” Obadiah 1:14

“Deliver not up those of his that remain” Obadiah 1:14

The most noticeable feature of these statements is their stark contrast with the description of Edom’s sin outlined in the two preceding verses where Edom’s action was stated simply in the past tense. Many of the present-day scholars violently convert this whole passage to the past tense, referring it to actions already committed by Edom, telling us that, “In highly imaginative fashion, the prophet speaks of events in the past as if they were still present.”(F11) “This is a rhetorical device, and the RSV is right in seeing that it refers to the past.”(F12) If such views are true, where is there another example of it in the whole Bible? Whoever heard of a “rhetorical device” by which a prophet of God warned a people against doing what they had already done? Such interpretations, or mistranslations as in the RSV and others, fall far short of credibility. If there had existed any such “rhetorical device” known to grammarians in the last three centuries, there would have been no need whatever to mistranslate the Word of God in order to make it visible. We shall take a look at the translation factor first. What does the Sacred Text declare?

No one can deny that the rendition in the ASV is correct. Even Robinson, as do practically all others who refer the passage to past events, freely admitted, “The ASV represents the actual construction of the Hebrew.”(F13) Commenting on the KJV text, “Thou shouldest not,” Barnes wrote:

“It means, and can only mean, `and look not, on the day of thy brother… rejoice not… enter not into the gate… etc.’ Throughout these verses Obadiah uses the future only. It is the voice of earnest exhortation and entreaty not to do what would displease God, and what, if done, would be punished.”(F14)

That the terrible conduct in view in these verses had indeed already been exhibited by the Edomites is hardly open to question. The attitudes and behaviour appearing here had been characteristic of the Edomites for generations of their long, bitter hatred of their close kinsmen the Jews; and Butler is almost certainly correct in his explanation of the passage thus:

“Obadiah used the perfect tense to indicate that such events had not only taken place but that they would take place again. Starting from particular historical events which had already happened, Obadiah saw in them all subsequent events of a similar kind. What Edom had done to Judah was typical of what would be the future relationship between the elect of God and the forces of evil.”(F15)

While receiving fully what Butler observed regarding this place, we wish to go beyond it in one particular. Not only did Obadiah foresee a perpetual and continuing hatred of the good by the wicked, he also foresaw a re-play of the whole sordid drama which had already occurred, upon another occasion YET FUTURE from Obadiah’s time, when Jerusalem WOULD BE destroyed by the Babylonians and the Israelites carried into captivity. There is therefore a definite and circumstantial prophecy in these verses of the overthrow of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. One can hardly resist the thought that a prior prejudice against any such conception as that of predictive prophecy has entered into the enthusiasm that lies behind the unwillingness of some to accept the future tense which is necessarily and most certainly in these verses.

All misinterpretations have their purpose. Look what is done and accomplished by perverting this passage to the PAST tense! It changes what is most certainly a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. to a reference to that event as ALREADY in the past. This also moves the prophecy of Obadiah out of the mid-9th century into the mid-6th century B.C., thus serving the double purpose of late dating the prophecy and getting rid of his prediction of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Something better than an alleged “literary device” will have to be thought of before this prophecy can be negated!

The actual conduct envisioned here hardly needs any comment, being as graphically and clearly stated as possible. That this conduct did not apply to the historical instance already referred to in Obadiah 1:10-11, is clear from the fact that in it, there was no mention of the Edomites actually participating in the looting of the city, whereas in the latter, they are warned against actual participation in its destruction. Allen insisted that there was participation evidenced in Obadiah 1:11, paraphrasing as follows: “Taking their cue from the Chaldean victors (Obadiah 1:11), they looted like any other foreigner.”(F16) Nevertheless, this appears to be a deduction from very weak premises. But, as regards Obadiah 1:12-14, there can be no doubt of reference to the final overthrow by Nebuchadnezzar. Thompson declared that:

“The reference is almost certainly to the catastrophe of 586 B.C. This is the only capture of Jerusalem in which it is recorded that the Edomites had a part. (See Psalms 137:7 and 1 Esdras 4:45.)”(F17)

Of course, the filling up of the wrath of God on the part of Edom took place in 586; and, therefore, the vigorous warnings of Obadiah 1:12-14 were at the time of Obadiah’s writing extremely appropriate. The prophecy here indicated that they would not heed the warning. On the other hand, to suppose that Obadiah here warned them against crimes which they had already committed makes no sense at all.

Verse 15

“For the day of Jehovah is near upon all the nations: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; thy dealing shall return upon thine own head.”

“For the day of Jehovah is near upon all nations” Note that the subject matter in the section here is no longer the Edomites and their godless behavior. No. It is the conduct of ALL NATIONS that seek not to know and do the will of God that comes into view here. They are wrong, therefore, who make this verse an extended comment on what Edom had done, thus bolstering their denial of the future tense in the previous verses. This verse is an extension of the warnings against Edom, only here it is the world theater which is in focus. “All the nations” are guilty in the large sense of false and deceitful dealing with the people of God, and there is also a “day of Jehovah for them.”

“The day of Jehovah” Extended comment upon this was written in my remarks on the Book of Hosea, pp. 157-159 (See Hosea 9:4 ff), where the origin of such a conception was attributed to God Himself, and not to any of the prophets. As regards which prophet first referred to it, Obadiah, “not Joel or Isaiah, first mentioned it.”(F18) Every judgment executed in the wrath of God against wicked men and/or nations is “the day of Jehovah” in that particular and for that object of it; but in the cosmic dimensions of the day, “the day of Jehovah” has reference to the final moral reckoning by the entire posterity of Adam at the time of the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal judgment of all people. There have already been many days of Jehovah. It came to the entire world in the instance of the Great Flood; the ancient pagan nations of Assyria, Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, Gomorrah, etc.; and during the present dispensation, the destruction of Jerusalem, Rome, and perhaps other world-shaking disasters may be understood as other examples of the same “day of Jehovah.”

“Thy dealing shall return upon thine own head” In the last analysis, the justice of God is retributive. In the final judgment, people shall be rewarded according to what they have done during the present life; and there has never been a true theology that can get rid of this basic truth. Certainly, Paul did not abolish it, for he wrote:

“For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Verse 16

“For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; yea, they shall drink, and swallow down, and shall be as though they had not been.”

“For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain” The antecedent of “thou” is “thee” (Obadiah 1:15), i.e., “all the nations.” “Obadiah regarded Edom as a type of the nations that were hostile to the Lord and to his people”;(F19) and in Obadiah 1:15-16, it is that application to all wicked nations which Obadiah was declaring. These two verses definitely do not stress Edom, but “all the nations.” Drinking upon God’s holy mountain is a metaphor of the general wickedness of the nations, considered by Obadiah as “the greatest” crime of desecration.”(F20) There is no need to search for any particular event the prophet might have had in mind.

Verse 17

“But in Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”

Thompson has a beautiful comment on this, showing that the Book of Revelation develops some of the thought here, as follows:

“According to Obadiah, Mount Zion shall be `holy’ (Obadiah 1:17) reserved for those who have escaped condemnation in the judgment; the new Jerusalem of Revelation is a morally holy city for those whose names are found in the Book of Life and who are victorious over sin (Revelation 21:7; Revelation 21:27). Obadiah’s closing words, `The kingdom shall be the Lord’s,’ are given a higher meaning in the triumphal chorus: `The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11:15).”(F21)

“The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions” The house of Jacob in the technical sense would be the twelve tribes of Israel which were descendant from him’, but the meaning here has no connection with the literal fleshly posterity of Jacob. What is meant is “The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” (James 1:1), i.e., the true Israel of God which is the church of Jesus Christ.

“Possess their possessions” is a reference to the rich and abundant mercies and blessings lavished upon God’s people of the New Covenant. There is no hint whatever in this passage of any return of literal Jews to “their land” in Palestine.

Verse 18

“And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall burn among them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining to the house of Esau; for Jehovah hath spoken it.”

There is far more in this than a mere prediction that Israel (in the literal sense) will succeed and prosper and that Edom shall be punished and destroyed; although, to be sure, that basic application of the words proved to be true. “That indeed was part of the picture. But what is referred to is not the conquest of other nations by God’s people. It is the conquest of the heathen by the Lord.”(F22) The eternal purpose of Almighty God has ever been that of the spiritual redemption and salvation of mankind. Secular kingdoms with all their blood and glory have never figured one way or another in the ultimate purpose of God, except as, here and there, such things affected the people of God’s covenant and their relationship to the Father.

Verse 19

“And they of the South shall possess the mount of Esau, and they of the lowland the Philistines; and they shall possess the field of Ephraim, and the field of Samaria; and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.”

Mount Esau and the Philistines are used here as “a synecdoche for all of the countries around about Canaan.”(F23) This passage has the same thought as that in Isaiah 54:3, where it was said of Israel that their seed “should possess the Gentiles.” Israel’s possession of Gentile nations was never promised or intended in the sense of military conquest or political expansion, but spiritually, through the conquest of mankind by the gospel of Christ. Israel itself, in the literal sense, never, not even yet, has appreciated this truth and acted accordingly.

Verse 20

“And the captives of this host of the children of Israel, that are among the Canaanites, shall possess even unto Zarephath; and the captives of Jerusalem, that are in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the South.”

This is a continuation of the thought of the preceding verses; and the captives mentioned are not, in any sense, those carried away by the Assyrians or the Babylonians, but those who were captives of sin and rebellion against God. It is here prophesied that at the time of the release of such sin-captives their possession of other nations will occur. And when was that? The first sermon that Jesus ever preached in his home town of Nazareth made it abundantly plain:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18).

Despite the fact of Jesus having indeed opened the eyes of those physically blind (even blind from birth), it was of the spiritually blind that he principally spoke. Likewise, the “captives” were those in captivity to sin. It is not recorded that Jesus ever got anybody out of jail, not even his friend John the Baptist! The great tragedy of Christianity, even as understood by many present-day believers, is that of making it more a matter of social and economic gains than it is a matter of salvation from sin. For the disastrous consequences of such error, one need not look any further than the fleshly Israel.

“That are among the Canaanites” Who could these be except the worshippers of Baal in Ephraim? People today who worship sex, gold, money, power, fame, etc., are “among the Canaanites” no less than they.

This brief but beautiful prophecy is a promise of release of such captives from the pursuit of sin and debauchery, and the promise that the redeemed host which they shall become after their release shall indeed take the world.

This is evident enough in the rich and abundant blessing of God upon those nations where his name is known and honored (however, incompletely); but it will be far more evident upon the arrival of that great “day of Jehovah” which is yet appointed by God Himself as the occasion when the moral judgment upon humanity, in all the terrible fullness of that judgment, shall make it starkly visible to all people that only “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

Verse 21

“And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.”

There were to be sure, primary, partial, and more immediate fulfillment’s of this prophecy of the preeminence of Jerusalem which came to pass exactly as Obadiah promised. Perhaps, as Deane noted, “Zerubbabel and the valiant Maccabees, who severely punished the Edomites”(F24) were, in a sense, “saviours” that rose up to restore the true religion, the reading of God’s law, etc.; but all such persons were, at best, only types and forerunners of the blessed Messiah, “the true saviour which is Christ the Lord.”(F25)

“To judge the mount of Esau” An immediate fulfillment of that came when the Edomites were defeated, forced to accept circumcision, and required to read the law of Moses! but far more is meant. Today, in the times of the regeneration, Jesus Christ our Lord and his holy apostles upon twelve thrones are “judging the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). All mankind, as well as “Mount Esau” are accountable and responsible to that judgment!

“The kingdom shall be the Lord’s (KJV)” No earthly achievement could ever fulfill this. Only the worldwide dominion of Jesus Christ could be meant by such a declaration. This is that “Shiloh” which was foreseen by Jacob, and the “scepter” that should never depart from Judah (Genesis 49:10). This is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the inaguration of the reign of Christ upon the throne of David (Acts 2:31-36). This is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that in his seed (Christ) “all the families of the earth should be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Here is the “Anointed one” who would restore sight to the blind and release the captives from sin (Luke 4:18). Here is the glorious One of whom it was said, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!” Blessed be his name forever.” Amen!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Obadiah 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/obadiah-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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