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DRYING UP OF THE EUPHRATES,
THE KINGS OF THE EAST."
REV. E. BICKERSTETH.
London: Nisbet & Co., Berners'-Street;
Hull: Cross, Prospect-Street.
————————"Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand."—Rev. 1:3.
A LETTER, &c.
My dear sir,
"What is the Euphrates of the Apocalypse"? is a question which you have at some length entered upon in your late work, entitled "The Signs of the Times." With the great majority of commentators on your side you tell us, though without assigning any reason for the opinion, that the Apocalyptic River is the Turkish Empire; another school of interpreters tell us that the Euphrates of the Revelation is simply the literal river of that name; while the great mass of true-hearted believers, having no definite premises on which to ground their conclusion, stand silent in uncertainty, confessedly unable to offer any judgment upon the question.
As a servant of the Lord I commend the following remarks to the attention of my brethren, in the hope that they may tend to throw some light upon the subject.
That the New Testament, and especially the Apocalypse, is full of figures and emblems taken from the history of the Old Testament, I think no intelligent Christian will deny. The laws, the polity, the very history and experience of Israel had been typical; and as such the New Testament writers, or rather the Holy Ghost by them continually makes allusions which have their force in the known connexion and analogy between the carnal types of the former, and the spiritual realities of the present, dispensation. Thus in the statements of New Testament doctrine, we have repeated references to the sacrifices, priesthood, altar, and to a hundred other particulars, of the old dispensation; all of which are alluded to as typical and illustrative of either the doctrines or circumstances of our own dispensation. For instance, to take but a single example, if we are spiritual priests, we are to keep our garments unspotted; we are to offer the appointed sacrifices; we are to be fed, not as other men are, but of the altar; we are to put away leaven out of our houses; we are to be washed in the water of the laver; and are to enter into the holiest by the blood. In every word of this there is a direct reference to the requirements of the Jewish economy, nor will the truth taught in these passages be fully apprehended without a definite knowledge of the typical facts on which the allusions are grounded.
I believe it is exactly thus also with regard to Euphrates, Babylon, the kings of the East, and other portions of the Apocalypse. The book of the Revelation is to the full as replete with Jewish and typical references as the rest of the New Testament. And just as no one could be a fit interpreter of all the Jewish allusions which occur in the statement of the doctrines of the New Testament, without a knowledge of the emblems of those doctrines in the types of the Mosaic economy; so, I believe, can no one be a fit interpreter of all the allusions in the Apocalyptic prophecy, without at least some knowledge of the by-gone history of the literal Israel. Did I wish therefore to explain such a passage as, "they have not defiled their garments," or again, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Rev. 3:4; Jude 23), I should carry back my scholar to the Old Testament; I should there first show him how the garments of the Israelite, as being that which met the eyes of men, were the symbol of our manifested character; in agreement with which I should point to the New Testament declaration, "that the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." I should then show that just as the breaking out of leprosy defiled the Israelite's garments, so the breaking out of the flesh in a Christian defiles that character of purity which the spiritual Israelite ought to manifest. In a word, the type of the Old Testament clearly apprehended would be the best comment on the statement of the New. In like manner, were I asked, What is Babylon or Euphrates in the Apocalypse; I would answer, Go to your bibles, and see what Babylon and Euphrates were as described in the prophetic histories of the Old Testament, and then you will through God's grace be more likely to discover their mystical signification and connexion in the prophetic scriptures of the New.
What then is the Euphrates of the Apocalypse? What is meant by "the waters of it being dried up that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared" (Rev. 16:12)? and how is all this connected with the doom of Babylon? Let us go to the Old Testament, and see if we can find any key to our question there.
The Old Testament gives us the following facts. Babylon after having been the scene of the first proud attempt at human confederation against God, became in process of time the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldee's excellency. It was for a long period the greatest city in the world. The Euphrates which flowed through it bore upon its ample stream a fleet of vessels, which were constantly employed in conveying the riches of the provinces into the capital, thus guarding the city from scarcity or want; while the towering walls, which are said by heathen writers to have looked rather like the bulwarks of nature than the workmanship of man, bid defiance to the attempts of any foreign enemy. To this city of man's glory and power was Israel led captive for their sins: here were the vessels of the temple prostituted at idolatrous feasts in the hands of Babylonians to add excess to ungodliness, and here did God's people remain in bondage until the time appointed for their captivity was fulfilled.
But scripture goes on to give us the account of the fall of Babylon and the restoration of the Jews: and it is to this part of the history, as typically connected with the Apocalyptic Euphrates, that I especially call attention.
When "the seventy years" of Israel's captivity were expired, of which God had spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah, "the Lord stirred up the spirit of the Medes, for His purpose against Babylon was to destroy it" (Isa. 13:17; Jer. 51:11). Accordingly we find that the kings of Media and Persia,—"the kings of the East," so called because Media and Persia lay directly east of Babylon,—with one accord came up against Babylon. In this expedition they intrusted the command of their united armies to Cyrus, the relative and eventually the successor of them both (Isa 44:28; 45:1-4). (Note: For those who wish to see how profane history illustrates the Scripture prophecy, I refer to Keith's Evidence of Prophecy, pp. 283, 284.) Besides the Medes and Persians, Cyrus brought up "an assembly of great nations from the north country" (Jer. 50:9), and "many kings were raised up against her from the coasts of the earth" (Jer. 50:41). The confederacy of nations which had been formed by the king of Babylon for the defence of his kingdom was within a few years turned by the policy of Cyrus into a confederacy even of the self-same nations against Babylon itself; (Note: See the references to Xenophon, in Keith, p. 284.) and Cyrus sat down before the lofty walls of Babylon with "a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of the nations gathered together" (Isa. 13:4).
But the position of Babylon seemed impregnable, and it was allowed by the assailants that the city was stronger by the river than by the walls. (Note: See Keith, p. 288.) The fleets of Babylon could sail down the centre of the river out of reach of the arms of Cyrus, thus abundantly and safely supplying all the necessities of the besieged, while the impregnable walls from their height and solidity easily defied all the attacks of the enemy. In this juncture, as his only resource, Cyrus determined to dry the bed of the Euphrates by turning the course of the river. The great trenches therefore, which he had previously dug round the walls, ostensibly, and in the first instance really, for the purpose of blockade, were now deepened and widened in order to drain the Euphrates from its original bed. By this means "the river Euphrates was dried up, that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." Thus was Babylon taken. God had said, "O thou that sittest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come. Behold I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry" (Jer. 51:13, 36). "A sword is upon the Chaldeans, saith the Lord, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon; a drought is upon her waters, and they shall be dried up" (Jer. 50:35, 38). "Thus saith the Lord, I am the Lord that maketh all things, that confirmeth the word of his servant, that saith to the deep be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure" (Isa. 44:27, 28). Such were the predictions of the prophets, and such was the fulfilment they met with.
Now let the reader of the Apocalyptic prophecy consider a fact or two.
In the Old Testament dispensation, the whole history and circumstances of which were more or less typical, there had been a Babylon, a city of confusion as its name imports (Gen. 11:9, margin), which in God's purpose had been made the house of bondage and oppression to his sinful and rebellious people. Against this "golden city" (Isa. 14:4), which "sat as a queen" (Jer. 47:7), "upon many waters" (Jer. 51:13) God at the time appointed raised up the kings of the East (Isa. 45:1, 2; Jer. 51:11, 28), who took Babylon by drying up the Euphrates (Jer. 50:38).
Put by the side of this the following:—
In the visions of the Apocalypse, the emblematic scenery of which is confessedly taken from the scriptures of the Old Testament, we find a mystic Babylon, a city of confusion like its literal predecessor, and like her the oppressor of God's people. Of this mystic city which like her predecessor "sits as a queen" (Rev. 18:7) "upon many waters" (Rev. 17:1), God by his servant declares the doom. It is the very doom of her prototype: the waters on which she sits, "the waters of Euphrates, shall be dried up that the way of the kings of the East may be prepared" (Rev. 16:12). Who is there so blind as not to see the allusion to the Old Testament Babylon. The literal Babylon sat upon the many waters of the literal Euphrates, and could not be taken while those waters continued to secure for her the supply of all her need: the mystic Babylon sits on the many waters of the mystic Euphrates, and cannot be taken while those waters continue to supply her with the means of support.
Now I ask, suppose,—what however is not the case,—that nothing further than this had been revealed to us in the Scriptures respecting the character and signification of the mystic Euphrates, might we not from the foregoing considerations come to some pretty clear apprehension of the meaning of its mystic waters. Might we not argue, and argue rightly, that what the literal waters of Euphrates were to the literal Babylon, that the mystic waters of Euphrates would be to the mystic Babylon. The literal Euphrates was to the literal Babylon the channel of her riches, power, and abundance. What is the channel through which riches, power, and abundance have flowed to the mystic Babylon? (Note: It is to be remembered that Euphrates means, "that which makes fruitful.") Let us first ask, what is mystic Babylon; and the answer to this will be one great step to the solution of the next question,—what is meant by the waters of Euphrates on which the woman sitteth.
What then is Babylon? Let us read the description given of her in the prophecy;—"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials; and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters; with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads, and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations, and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Rev. 17:1-5). The solution of the great emblems of the prophecy is then immediately added in the following words;—"the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues; and the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (Rev. 17:15, 18).
Now, I ask, can there be any reasonable doubt on the mind of any intelligent and true-hearted Christian as to what this woman is, who is here so minutely described. Question there may be as to the purport of that portion of the prophecy (verses 7-11) which details the overthrow of this mystic woman; for that overthrow being still one of "the things which shall be," like other things yet future must as to its details be still hidden from our intelligence. But I do ask, putting aside for a moment that part of the prophecy which speaks of the overthrow of the mystic Babylon, can there be any doubt as to what Babylon itself is designed to represent.
A system has existed, whose most perfect manifestation has always been found in the seven-hilled city, a system well worthy the name of Babylon, not only as being the prison house of God's Israel, but as having well earned for itself the title of "Confusion," (Note: Babylon means "confusion".) from the confusion it has made between the church and the world. This system has in profession been the bride of the lamb, while in reality she has been a harlot and an adulteress. Selling herself to the kings of the earth for what they would give her, through many centuries she has been their mistress and accomplice. And what has upheld and supplied her? "The woman sat upon a ten-horned beast, by the side of many waters": (Note: ἐπὶ θηρίον, ἐπὶ τῶν ὑδάτων τῶν πολλῶν. "ἐπὶ with an accusative has the sense of on; with a genitive, by or near." Donnegan. This distinction makes the passage, which otherwise appears somewhat contradictory, perfectly plain. The woman sat ἐπὶ θηρίον, upon the beast; ἐπὶ τῶν ὑδάτων τῶν πολλῶν, beside many waters: in exact agreement with which we read further on, "the waters which thou sawest where the whore sitteth," not on which.—v. 15.) the system of confusion, of which Rome is the centre has been supported by the ten-kingdomed Roman empire, while the peoples and multitudes of that empire, "the waters which thou sawest," like the literal Euphrates to the literal Babylon, have never ceased to supply her with a return for her merchandize. Thus not only has she sold herself to the kings of the earth for what they would give to her, but she has used their multitudes for what they could bestow upon her; for "the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the inhabitants of the earth, yea all nations, have drunk of the wine of her fornication" (Rev. 17:2; 18:3).
Such is Babylon, not only Popery proper, as is too commonly said, for such popery does not now rule all the ten horns of the Roman empire, though Babylon the great still flourishes and vaunts herself:—Babylon is that system of confusion, that system of national christianity, whose chief characteristic is that it calls the world Christian, and by ordinances would make its multitudes Christ's heritage. Babylon is not popery in its false doctrines merely, in its transubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, and indulgences;—these are but the results of something yet deeper, and in the emblem are represented not by "Babylon" but by "her merchandize";— (*) Babylon is popery in its essence, popery in its one fundamental error which has made all subsequent false doctrines necessary, the error of substituting flesh for Spirit, and the birth of the flesh for the birth from heaven.
(Note: * The following passage, from the Rev. Thomas Scott's Commentary, may upon this question not be without its use. In commenting upon the merchandize of the harlot, as described in verses 9-19, he says,—"To number 'the persons of men' with oxen and horses is no doubt a most detestable and anti-christian practice, fit only for 'Babylon the great.' Yet even this, cruel, unrighteous, and hateful as it is, must not be considered as the worst traffic even of this our land, for the 'souls of men' are traded for by those, who take the care of them for the sake of the emolument, and the abundance of delicacies obtained by it; and then either leave them to perish in ignorance, or poison them by heresy, or lead them on the road to hell by a profligate example: strenuously and by every calumny, if stronger means are withheld, opposing all who attempt to prevent the dire effects of their vile conduct. Many of these spiritual wickednesses, and this merchandize of souls,—by feigned words equivocating subscriptions and declarations, nay, worshipping God in expressions which are avowedly deemed false by those who use them, and all this for filthy lucre's sake,—will be found under different forms even in the protestant churches: and perhaps no denomination is quite free from the guilt of rendering religious profession and sacred functions subservient to worldly interest, credit, ease, and indulgence. In these things we ought to come out and separate from Babylon, if we would not partake of her plagues."
This is strong enough, coming as it does from a Churchman, but the notorious fact is that "the care of souls is sold at the auction-marts in England on the same principle as shares in banks or railways. The same office, which will give you information as to the one, affords information for the most eligible investment of money as to the other." So much for one sample of the harlot's merchandize in England: and the harlot may be known by her wares.)
It is a question well worthy our most serious attention,—Who is now upholding Babylon? The prophecy tells us that, as long as she exists, she sits upon the ten-horned beast. That "beast" is confessedly the Roman empire, and the "ten horns" its ten divisions. Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, and the other continental kingdoms of the Roman world, we all with one voice declare to be members of "the beast," by which "the woman" is supported. It is a question well worthy our consideration,—Is England a member of that beast,—Is England one of the supporters of Babylon? What say facts, and what says Scripture?
What says Scripture? We read in Rev. 17 of a great beast with ten horns, which supports the mystic Babylon. This beast, it is allowed, represents the Roman empire, and the ten horns its ten divisions. Is England one of these divisions? The answer is too obvious to need any comment. While the woman lives, the beast she sits on has ten horns. Let him that hath wisdom ask, first, is this mystic woman yet living; and then, what are the horns of the beast she sits on?
And what say facts? A system was established under Constantine and Theodosius, which rapidly grew to maturity under their successors, by which the ten kingdoms of Europe as kingdoms were called Christian, and their unconverted multitudes by ordinances reckoned as the Church. By this system, the very foundation of which was making natural birth and ordinances take the place of regeneration, all the population of the ten kingdoms, (of England among the rest,) became, as it was said, Christ's heritage; as such they arrogated to themselves the name of Christendom; (Note: Christendom, a corruption for "Christ's kingdom." This is true in more senses than one.) every man, woman, and child, born within these countries was considered the Church, and as such by authority was supplied with Christ's ordinances. The great fundamental principle of this system was not this or that grosser abomination of popery, such as transubstantiation, penance, or indulgences: these were afterwards added as they were required to make the system consistent, but they are the fruit not the root of the system: the root was making the world the church in virtue of birth in the flesh and outward ordinances. The question is, Did the Reformation touch the root of this system? Not at all. It cleared away some of the superstructure, but never moved a single stone of its foundation. To the present hour in England and Switzerland, (I choose the places where the Reformation worked the deepest,) national birth and ordinances remain, just as they did before the Reformation, the door for admitting the nation into the Church, and as a part of the system the equivalent for regeneration. Before the Reformation every man, woman, and child, born in England, by natural birth and ordinances was unconsciously made a Christian, and called regenerate with the Spirit. The system remains precisely the same, unchanged to the present hour. It is true that in England since the Reformation the superstructure of indulgences, and some other of the grosser absurdities of popery, is gone: the harlot has been robbed of some of her trumpery, but the harlot remains the harlot still. The difference is that whereas before the Reformation the system was in all points a consistent one, not only beginning in the flesh but providing for it in every point; now it is in many points inconsistent, beginning in the flesh, but only providing for it partially.
Such being Babylon, what is "the Euphrates," and what will be "the kings of the East"? The answer to the first of these questions is, I believe, supplied in the prophecy itself: for a clue to the other we must go to the history which so evidently is alluded to.
First, as to the Euphrates: the following passage, I conceive, supplies at once the interpretation of this emblem. "The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (Rev. 17:15).
But it may be asked,—can it be shewn that these "waters" are identical with "the Euphrates"? I answer, consider the symbols here made use of. Here are "Babylon sitting upon many waters," "Euphrates," and "the kings of the East." Now the literal Babylon in the prophecy of Jeremiah is seen as "the woman," "that dwelleth upon many waters" (Jer. 51:13, 33); and her doom is, "a drought shall be on thy waters, and they shall be dried up" (Jer. 50:38). In all this the Euphrates by name is not mentioned, but it is obvious that the waters spoken of were the Euphrates; for Babylon was built on that river, and by its drying up did the kings of the East take her. So in the Apocalyptic prophecy, "Babylon" is shewn as "sitting beside many waters," while, as in the Old Testament, the name of those waters is not expressly given us; but in another passage of the same prophecy we read, "the waters of Euphrates shall be dried up that the way of the kings of the East may be prepared." On a question like this could evidence be more satisfactory that "the waters" by which Babylon sits are the waters of Euphrates; and of these waters it is said, "the waters which thou sawest where the whore sitteth are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues."
But what "peoples"? The Turkish empire, say the great body of commentators. Why the Turkish empire? Does the Turkish empire stand in the same relation to the mystic Babylon as the literal Euphrates did to the literal Babylon? Is the Turkish empire the channel through which mystic Babylon has been supplied with all that has made her so glorious? Certainly not. Dry up the Turkish empire, and mystic Babylon would not consequently be deprived of her sustenance: but dry up that stream of "peoples and multitudes" which for the last twelve centuries has been constantly supplying Babylon with the riches of this world in return for her adulterous merchandize, and then how long will Babylon stand! Draw away from the system of national christianity, which now pervades all Europe, "the peoples and multitudes and nations" which have been pouring their riches into it, and then you dry up her Euphrates, and Babylon the great will fall.
And who are to be the means of effecting this? Who are to be the agents by which that stream of peoples and multitudes, which has so long supplied Babylon with her delicacies, shall be drawn from her? The answer to this question will I doubt not give us the solution of "the kings of the East." The literal kings of the East were the power which dried up the literal Euphrates to open a way into the strong holds of literal Babylon. The mystical kings of the East will be that power which will dry up the mystical Euphrates to open a way into the strong holds of mystical Babylon. The emblems are doubtless in the strictest proportion. (Note: The following sample from Elliott's "Horae Apocalypticae," will shew how thoroughly the principle of proportion and connexion between the united emblems of the Apocalyptic prophecy is neglected even by the most learned commentators, and how openly common consistency,—the consistency of explaining the same emblem in the same way throughout the same prophecy,—is set at nought. Thus to refer only to his interpretation of Babylon, Euphrates, and the Kings of the East:—"Babylon" is taken mystically; it is Papal Rome: (pp. 1255-1266.) "The kings of the East" are taken literally; they are the kings of the eastern nations: (pp. 1150-1154.) while Euphrates is taken in one place literally, in another mystically. In ch. ix. 14. it is literally the river Euphrates; (pp. 315-319.) in ch. xvi. 12. it is taken mystically for the Turkish empire. (p. 1110.) Thus in the same connected prophecy one emblem, "Babylon," is always taken mystically; another, "the kings of the East," always literally; and the third, "the Euphrates," sometimes literally and sometimes mystically, just as it suits the fancy of the commentator. Nay, in the very same verse, one emblem is taken literally, the other mystically. In Rev. 16:12 "the kings of the East" are literally the kings of the eastern nations, while "the Euphrates" in the same verse is mystically the Turkish empire. So much for consistency and proportion in interpreting the emblems of prophecy. What can result from all this but greater confusion, and this spite of the piety and truth which shine in many parts of the volumes referred to. Nevertheless the testimony of Jesus standeth sure, and the word still is,—"If any man have an ear, let him hear." Rev. 13:9.) What the literal Euphrates was to the literal Babylon, that the mystical Euphrates is to the mystical Babylon; and what the literal kings of the East were to the literal Euphrates, that the mystical kings of the East will be to the mystical Euphrates. We have the key to "Babylon" and "Euphrates": what will be "the kings of the East"?
The event is yet future: and its details therefore must in measure be hidden from us, but the emblem is clear enough to give us all the outlines, for the facts alluded to are most definite and notorious. In the taking of ancient Babylon, the confederacy of kings, which had been united by the king of Babylon for the defence of his city, was by the policy of the Medes turned into a confederacy of those same powers against it; and by them were the trenches dug which carried off the waters of the Euphrates. Who does not perceive how easily the confederacy of kingdoms, which through various motives have submitted to mystic Babylon, and have supported her city and empire, may be turned and that very easily into a confederacy directly against her. Who does not see how easily trenches may be dug,—may I not say, how trenches already are dug,—around her by the lawlessness and infidelity of the day, prepared doubtless for the hour of her overthrow, when "the waters" which now defend her shall be withdrawn. I will not go further into this question as it belongs to the future. I rather mention two facts. National religion is daily becoming more palpably one of the difficulties of European politicians; while lawlessness, both ecclesiastical and political, is busily digging its trenches, prepared to draw off the "peoples and multitudes" from national christianity.
The destroyers of Babylon are "the kings of the East:" let this be remembered by God's Israel. There are at present not a few in England,—and the same may be said of some of the countries on the Continent,—who seeing the real character of national christianity, are labouring with carnal weapons for its overthrow. (Note: The Anti-State Church Conference is an example.) Such men are unhesitatingly using the lawlessness of the day to influence Governments to sweep away national establishments; and in this, however pure their motives, they are doing the work of "the beast." What saith the Scripture? "The ten horns which thou sawest upon (Note: The other reading, which Griesbach prefers, is, "the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall &c.") the beast, these shall hate the whore, and make her desolate, and burn her with fire" (Rev. 17:16). It is "the beast," not Israel, that overthrows Babylon. To Israel the word is not, "Set yourselves in array against her;" but rather, "Come out of her my people" (Rev. 18:4).
Such is the prophecy respecting Babylon, and such are the predicted means of her overthrow. Apostate and adulterous she has sold herself to the kings of the earth; those kings once so submissive will eventually be weary of her; the beast shall destroy her with his horns. She has sat as a queen beside the Euphrates, and sucked up the treasures of its waters, but those waters shall at last be drawn away from her, and Euphrates shall be dried up. There is a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God: there is a river the streams whereof make glad the city of God. But how different the lot of these two cities. Draw away the Euphrates from Babylon, and Jerusalem is rebuilt and her people delivered: but draw away the Euphrates from Babylon, and Babylon the great must fall. Draw away the nations of this world from that city of confusion, that system of national christianity, which is figured to us in the mystic Babylon, and the true church will be liberated not injured: but draw away the nations from national christianity, and national christianity must fall.
That the Lord may deliver all his people from union with what is evil, and from supporting what He is, I believe, so soon about to judge, is the prayer of,
My Dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully, in the Lord Jesus,
Hull, August 8th, 1845.
r. s. cross, prospect-street, hull.
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