1 Corinthians 10:1-13
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1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Biblical Commentary:
Chapter 10 is part of a larger unit (8:1 – 11:1) focused on the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. In Corinth, much of the meat available for human consumption had been sacrificed to idols. Typically, part of the meat was burned on the altar, part was reserved for the priests, part was consumed by the people making the sacrifices, and the rest was available for sale. Of the meat available for purchase, some would be served, restaurant-style, in temples. The rest would be sold in meat markets throughout the city. While it was clear that meat served in temples had been sacrificed to idols, it would be more difficult—often impossible—to determine the origin of meat for sale in meat markets.
There were two dimensions to the problem for Christians. One was whether it was permissible to eat meat served within the temple precincts. The other was whether it was permissible to purchase meat that had been sacrificed to idols and to eat it at home. Eating meat within the temple precincts could be a particular problem, because neophyte Christians seeing more sophisticated Christians eating meat at a temple would almost certainly conclude that the sophisticated Christians were engaged in idol-worship (8:10). Eating meat at home, even thought it might have been sacrificed to idols, would be less liable to be interpreted in that way. However, if someone happens to interpret it that way, Paul says that the one eating the meat should cease and desist (8:13; 10:28-31).
Chapter 9 is sufficiently different that some scholars consider it to have been inserted after-the-fact. However, that is not the case. We might think of chapter 9 as a sermon illustration. In chapter 8, Paul states the principle that exercising love for one’s Christian brothers and sisters is more important than exercising the personal freedom that we have in Christ. In chapter 9, he tells how he has done that. He had the right to marry, but chose to forego that right to devote his full time to preaching the Gospel (9:5ff.). He had the right to require his congregation to provide for him financially, but chose to forego that right for their benefit (9:6ff.). So also, they should forego their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols if someone might misunderstand their behavior and thus be injured.
Paul closed chapter 9 by counseling Corinthian Christians to run a disciplined spiritual race so that they might win the spiritual prize (9:24-27). In chapter 10, Paul returns to the subject of idols, giving the Corinthian Christians admonitions against four pitfalls that might cause them to lose the spiritual race. He warns the Corinthians to avoid the fate of ancient Israelites, who did things that displeased God and so suffered God’s judgment in the wilderness (10:6-10). He assures the Corinthians that God will give them the strength to avoid temptations (v. 13) and tells them to “flee from idolatry” (v. 14). He then restates his principle of love as follows: “‘All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are profitable. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own, but each one his neighbor’s good” (10:23-24. See also 6:12).
1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-6. GOD WAS NOT WELL PLEASED
1Now I would not have you ignorant, brothers, that our fathers (Greek: pateres) were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2and were all baptized (baptizo) into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5However with most of them, God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted..
Note the parallel structure between verses 1-4 and 6-10. In verses 1-4, Paul notes FOUR SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGES enjoyed by the Israelites. All of them:
• “were…under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (v. 1).
• “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v. 2).
• “ate the same spiritual food” (v. 3).
• “drank of a spiritual rock” (v. 4).
In verses 6-10, Paul gives FOUR ADMONITIONS, given so that Corinthian Christians “should not lust after evil things, as they (the ancient Israelites) also lusted” (v. 6). Paul counsels them:
• Not to “be idolaters, as some of them were” (v. 7).
• Not to “commit sexual immorality, as some of them committed” (v. 8).
• Not to “test the Lord, as some of them tested” (v. 9).
• Not to “grumble, as some of them also grumbled” (v. 10).
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brothers” (v. 1a). In the original Greek, this verse starts with the word gar, which is usually translated “for.” That word connects this verse with the last verses of chapter 9, where Paul was counseling the Corinthian Christians to run a disciplined spiritual race so that they might win the spiritual prize. Paul now tells the Corinthian Christians that, although the ancient Israelites enjoyed many spiritual advantages, they committed idolatrous sins that cause them to lose their spiritual race—to come under God’s judgment.
Corinth has a large Gentile population, and many Corinthian Christians are Gentiles rather than Jews. Some are surely not well-versed in Hebrew Scripture and Israelite history. In verses 1-5, Paul gives them a thumbnail sketch of the sad fate of Israelites who, during their wanderings in the wilderness, enjoyed spiritual advantages, and yet experienced God’s judgment. Paul wants to insure, not only that the Corinthian Christians know that story, but also that they understand its significance for themselves.
“that our fathers (pateres) were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (v. 1b). Paul speaks of the ancient Israelites as pateres—fathers or ancestors—even though many of the Corinthian Christians are Gentiles rather than Jews. In doing so, he acknowledges the continuity between Israel and the church as the people of God. Ancient Israel is the progenitor for both. Because of this continuity, the church is often referred to as the New Israel.
The cloud to which Paul refers is the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites on their wilderness journey during the day (a pillar of fire led them by night). The Lord was in this cloud (Exodus 13:21). It remained in front of the Israelites to lead them, with one exception. When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, the cloud moved to the rear of the Israelites to separate them from the Egyptians so as to protect them from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:20).
The sea through which the ancient Israelites passed was the Red Sea (Exodus 14). For the Jews, these were foundational stories that every Jewish child would know in detail. Some Gentile Christians in Corinth are probably familiar with these stories, but others are surely marginally literate when it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures.
Paul uses the word “all” twice in this verse and three times in subsequent verses to emphasize that every one of the ancient Israelites enjoyed the spiritual advantages of baptism in the cloud and sea, eating spiritual food, drinking spiritual drink. Any Israelites who experienced God’s judgment in that wilderness setting were doing so in spite of these spiritual advantages.
The Corinthian Christians need to hear this as a warning. Even though they also enjoy certain spiritual advantages, they cannot take it for granted that their eternal destiny is secure. Much will depend on their behavior—their choices.
“and were all baptized (baptizo) into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v. 2). It might seem peculiar that Paul would refer to Israel’s experience “in the cloud and in the sea” as a baptism. While the Israelites practiced a number of cleansing rituals, most of which involved water (Exodus 29:4; 30:17-21; 40:30-33; Leviticus 17:15-16; Deuteronomy 21:6)—and Jews baptized Gentiles who were converting to Judaism—the word “baptism” is a New Testament rather than an Old Testament word.
However, a word study of the word baptizo can be instructive here. Baptizo means “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into, and bathe” (Dau, 410). With these meanings in mind, it is easy to see how Paul would think of the Red Sea experience as a baptism. The reference to the cloud as a baptism is somewhat more obscure, although it is easy to see how Paul would consider the Israelites’ experience with the cloud as a baptism if the cloud enveloped the Israelites at some point. In verse 2, Paul speaks of the Israelites as “in the cloud,” which could easily be seen as a baptism.
“baptized into Moses” is a peculiar expression. Paul twice refers to Christian baptism as being “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27), so he probably intends “baptized into Moses” as parallel language. Perhaps the link between these two phrases is that Israel was the covenant community of the Old Testament, while the church is the covenant community of the New Testament.
The implicit warning to these Corinthian Christians is that many ancient Israelites suffered judgment in the wilderness because of their behavior—in spite of their baptism into Moses. Therefore, the Corinthian Christians should not assume that their Christian baptism will exempt them from God’s judgment.
“and all ate the same spiritual food” (v. 3). By “spiritual food,” Paul means manna, the miraculous food with which God fed Israel during their wilderness journey (Exodus 16).
“and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (v. 4). By “spiritual rock,” Paul means the rock from which the Israelites received water from a rock miraculously (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13; Deuteronomy 14:7).
“For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them” (v. 4b). In what sense did the spiritual rock follow the Israelites? We aren’t sure.
Israel wandered in the wilderness, an arid region, for forty years. During that time, they needed water on a daily basis—lots of water to feed thousands of people and their livestock. When Paul speaks of the spiritual rock as following the Israelites, he could mean that God worked miracles of abundant water wherever they traveled.
Alternatively, the word rock is often used in Hebrew Scriptures to refer to Yahweh (Genesis 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2-3, 32, 47; 23:3; etc.). When Paul says that the spiritual rock followed Israel, he could be talking about Yahweh.
In any event, the eating of verse 3 and drinking of verse 4 bring to mind the Lord’s Supper, where Christians receive their spiritual food and drink. Paul uses this imagery to warn Corinthian Christians that many Israelites suffered judgment in the wilderness because of their behavior—in spite of having partaken of the spiritual food and drink. Therefore, the Corinthian Christians should not assume that their participation in the Lord’s Supper will exempt them from judgment.
“and the rock was Christ” (v. 4c). Once again, we can only make educated guesses about the meaning of this phrase. Most likely, Paul is equating Yahweh and Christ. If so, this would support the interpretation of verse 3 that sees Yahweh as the rock that followed Israel.
“However with most of them, God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (v. 5). The journey of the Israelites in the wilderness was the story of one faith-failure after another. Finally, God had enough. When the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would that we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2), Yahweh decided to take them at their word and let them die in the wilderness.
Yahweh said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? and how long will they not believe in me, for all the signs which I have worked among them? I will strike them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 4:11)
When Moses interceded for the people, begging Yahweh to forgive them, Yahweh responded, “I have pardoned according to your word: but in very deed, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Yahweh; because all those men who have seen my glory, and my signs, which I worked in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have tempted me these ten times, and have not listened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I swore to their fathers, neither shall any of those who despised me see it” (Numbers 14:20-23).
The point for the Corinthian Christians is that the spiritual advantages of the Israelites did not save them from the consequences of their unfaithfulness—so the Corinthians should not assume that their spiritual advantages will save them if they prove unfaithful.
“Now these things were our examples” (typos) (v. 6a). The Greek word typos suggests that I should include a brief note about typology (from the Greek words typos and logos). Typology is a hermeneutical method—a method of interpreting certain passages of scripture.
“The word typos denotes a mark left by a blow…or the impression of a seal on wax. In theology, the term typology describes a study of continuity between the OT and the NT through types of events that are seen to foreshadow and give historical meaning to events in the NT. For example, the twelve tribes of Israel are types for the twelve disciples of Jesus” (Elliott, 692).
Typology is similar to analogy (from the Greek words ana [up or up from] and logos). An example of an analogy is comparing the heart to a pump. If you understand how a simple pump works, that will help you to understand how a heart works.
However there is a significant difference between an analogy and a type. An analogy can be strictly hypothetical, but typologies are based on an historical person, place, event, or institution in the Old Testament that is linked with a similar person, place, event, or institution in the New Testament. For instance, Melchizedek is a type of Christ (Genesis 14-18; Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; 7:1-28) and Jerusalem is a type of the heavenly kingdom (Isaiah 60:14; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1).
In this chapter, the things that Paul lists as types are:
• The cloud and the Red Sea—a type of Christian baptism.
• Partaking of spiritual food—a type of the bread of the Lord’s Supper.
• Drinking from the spiritual rock—a type of the wine of the Lord’s Supper.
“to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (v. 6b). While we might consider the punishment rendered by God on the ancient Israelites as a type of the punishment that the Corinthian Christians can expect if they are unfaithful, Paul’s intent in this chapter is to warn the Corinthians so that they might avoid the punishment. Therefore, the punishment is not a type, because (assuming that the Corinthians heed the warning) they will escape the punishment and there will be no New Testament counterpart for the Old Testament event.
1 CORINTHIANS 10:7-11. NEITHER BE IDOLATORS
7Neither be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 8Neither let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them committed, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell. 9Neither let us test the Lord, as some of them tested, and perished by the serpents. 10Neither grumble (Greek: gongyzo), as some of them also grumbled, and perished by the destroyer. 11Now all these things happened to them by way of example (typikos), and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
“Neither be idolaters, as some of them were” (v. 7a). This draws us back to the problem that Paul began to address in chapter 8 (keep in mind that chapters 8-10 form a unit)—”things sacrificed to idols” (8:1)—more specifically, eating food sacrificed to idols, particularly when that is done in a pagan temple (8:10). Idols are nothing, so meat sacrificed to idols is just ordinary meat. However, eating meat sacrificed to idols within a pagan temple makes too close a connection between the Christian believer and idol worship. That sort of conduct constitutes idolatry, and Christians must abstain from it. They must also abstain from eating meat sacrificed to idols if doing so would damage the faith of a less sophisticated Christian.
“As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play’” (v. 7b). As noted above, Paul counsels the Corinthian Christians to avoid four ancient Israelite sins. This verse introduces the first sin. The other three are:
• Indulging in sexual immorality (v. 8).
• Putting Christ to the test (v. 9).
• Complaining (v. 10).
The example that Paul cites here has to do with Aaron making a golden calf and proclaiming that the next day would be a festival to Yahweh. “They rose up early on the next day, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:4-6).
“Neither let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them committed” (v. 8a). Sexual immorality is the second of the four sins that Paul counsels the Corinthian Christians to avoid.
While the word “revel” (Hebrew: saheq) in Exodus 32:4-6 can suggest sexual play, the account in Exodus doesn’t make the link between sexual play and idolatry explicit.
However, other accounts do make that explicit. For instance, “Israel stayed in Shittim; and the people began to play the prostitute with the daughters of Moab: for they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. Israel joined himself to Baal Peor: and the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3).
Paul counsels the Corinthian Christians not to follow the example of the ancient Israelites, which would be a serious temptation if the Corinthian Christians spent much time around pagan temples. While Corinth’s reputation as “sin city” has been exaggerated, prostitutes were available in some of the city’s temples.
“and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (v. 8b). In the example cited above from Numbers 25, twenty-four thousand died by the plague (Numbers 25:9). There have been various attempts to reconcile Paul’s twenty-three thousand with the twenty-four thousand cited in Numbers 25, but we have no definitive answer to that discrepancy.
“Neither let us test the Lord, as some of them tested” (v. 9a). Putting Christ to the test is the third of the four sins that Paul counsels the Corinthian Christians to avoid.
The Old Testament includes many references to Israel testing God (Exodus 17:2; Numbers 14:22; Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalm 78:18, 56-57; 81:7; 95:9; 106:14; Isaiah 7:12; Malachi 3:10)—accounts where people question God—complain about God’s providence or lack thereof—or rebel against God. The ancient Israelites lacked faith and behaved unfaithfully. These testings were attempts to wrest control from God.
The New Testament includes many references to those who tried to test Jesus (Matthew 4:7; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Luke 4:12; 10:25; 11:16). In the first of these accounts (Matthew 4:7), it was the devil who was tempting Jesus. In the other accounts, Jesus’ enemies were testing him in an attempt to embarrass him and to undermine his authority.
Paul warns the Corinthian Christians not to put Christ to the test. The implication is that they would be testing Christ if they were to eat at both his table and an idol’s table.
“and perished by the serpents” (v. 9b). The reference here is to Numbers 21, where “The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died” Numbers 21:5-6). When the people confessed their sin to Moses, he prayed for the people. God responded by telling Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. When anyone was bitten by a serpent, he/she had only to look at the bronze serpent to be saved (Numbers 21:7-9).
While the word “test” does not occur in this Numbers 21 account, that story fits the sense of testing that we see in other Old Testament passages. The classic testing of God took place at Massah (which means “testing”) and Meribah (which means “quarreling”), where “the children of Israel quarreled, and because they tested Yahweh, saying, ‘Is Yahweh among us, or not?'” (Exodus 17:7; see also Exodus 17:2; Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalm 81:7).
“Neither grumble (gongyzo), as some of them also grumbled, and perished by the destroyer” (v. 10). Complaining (gongyzo) is the fourth of the four sins that Paul counsels the Corinthian Christians to avoid. The word gongyzo has to do with murmuring discontentedly, grumbling, or complaining. The Old Testament Hebrew antecedents of this Greek word are liyn and telunah and anan, each of which has to do with complaints. Israelites often complained against Moses (Exodus 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Numbers 14:2), but their complaints against Moses were really complaints against Yahweh (Exodus 16:7-12; Numbers 11:1; 14:27).
In some instances, God severely punished the Israelites for complaining against him (Numbers 11:1, 33; 14:26-29). When Paul talks about the complainers being “perished by the destroyer,” he probably has one of these two accounts (Numbers 11 or 14) in mind. Some scholars cite the account in Numbers 16 as the antecedent to Paul’s comment in this verse, but that was an account of rebellion rather than complaint (related but different sins). Since Paul is counseling against complaining in this verse, it seems more appropriate to think of Numbers 11 or 14 as the antecedent to Paul’s comment here.
“Now all these things happened to them by way of example“ (typikos) (v.11a). Verse 11 is similar to verse 6, which concluded the first portion of this exegesis. The point of each of these verses is that God has provided examples so that we need not repeat the sins of those who went before us.
The word typikos here has nothing to do with typology (see the comments on verse 6a above), because the Old Testament example (punishment) will not have a New Testament counterpart if these people heed Paul’s advice. Typology requires both an Old Testament antecedent and a New Testament fulfillment.
“and they were written for our admonition” (v.11b). Later, when Paul writes young Timothy, he will say, “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The history of God’s people is the history of rising and falling—learning and forgetting—sinning, being punished, and receiving forgiveness. The cycle is repeated with each successive generation, but that need not be so. In the scriptures, God provides us with a record of that which has gone before so that we need not repeat the sins of those who went before us.
“on whom the ends of the ages have come” (v.11c). With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, a new age has begun. The church is the New Israel—the new people of God. We are no longer waiting for the Messiah’s advent, which has already happened, but are looking toward his Second Coming, when Christ will complete his salvation work. In that day, “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
In Christ, we have become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—fitted for God’s kingdom. Therefore, we have a responsibility to live as God’s people. In the case of these Corinthian Christians, that would preclude eating meat sacrificed to idols within the precincts of the pagan temples.
1 CORINTHIANS 10:12-13. BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DO NOT FALL
12Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall. 13No temptation (Greek:peirasmos) has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall” (v. 12). The “So” in this verse links verses 12-13 to those that went before. Since we have the example of the ancient Israelites who, in spite of their spiritual advantages suffered God’s judgment in the wilderness, we must be careful not to repeat their sins and their fate. Because of their covenant relationship with Yahweh (a great spiritual advantage), they thought they were standing. However, because of their lack of faith and their unfaithful behavior, they fell. We, then, who have the spiritual advantage of our savior, Jesus Christ, and think we are standing, need to take care that we don’t fall as those ancient Israelites did.
“No temptation (peirasmos) has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v. 13). Paul has been warning the Corinthian Christians that they are in danger of falling. Now he offers three notes of encouragement:
• The first encouragement is that any peirasmos that they might experience is common to humans. This is encouraging, because many people have risen to the occasion and overcome very difficult circumstances. They have found strength in their religious faith—or in their determination to help other members of their family—or whatever. If they were able to do that, so can the Corinthian Christians—and so can we.
The word peirasmos can mean either testing or temptation. I like to think of the difference as follows: In a TESTING situation, the tester is hoping for the person being tested to succeed—to pass the test. In a TEMPTATION situation, the tester is hoping for the person being tempted to fail. While English translations of the Bible don’t always follow that model (the NRSV often says that Pharisees came to test Jesus, hoping that he would fail), the distinction that I have outlined acknowledges that not all peirasmos involves malice.
• The second encouragement is that the Lord is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; 32:4; Psalm 31:5; 111:7; 145:13; Isaiah 49:7; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 1:5; 19:11). Elsewhere, Paul says, “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you, and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). We need not worry whether God will be there when we need him. We need not worry about whether he loves us. God is faithful—rock-solid faithful.
• The third encouragement is that God will not allow us to be tested beyond our breaking point, but with the testing will provide the resources to pass the test. God isn’t trying to break us, but instead is loving us and rooting for us and helping us.
The story of Job comes to mind. God allowed Satan to test Job beyond the point that most of us would consider reasonable, but Job maintained his faith throughout the testing and God eventually rewarded him. Job’s success wasn’t automatic—he could have failed. However, God provided the means for him to succeed, and Job availed himself of those resources so that he might succeed. While he sometimes wavered or doubted, he never gave up or cursed God.
The implication of these three encouragements for the Corinthian Christians is that they can expect God to help them if they experience ostracism or the loss of a job because of their refusal to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Their losses, if they do experience them, will be hurtful, but they can expect that God will “provide the way out”—the way of escape—the means of salvation.
In the next verse (not included in this reading, but a natural conclusion to it), Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (10:14). That is the point of this chapter—and the unit of chapters 8-10. “Flee from the worship of idols!”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Chafin, Kenneth L., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1-2 Corinthians, Vol. 30 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985)
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