Scriptures

Ezekiel’s Vision

Introduction

‘In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was on him.’ Ezekiel 1:1-3

We learn where Ezekiel is, and his circumstances. Ezekiel describes his vision. The prophet introduces himself as the son of Buzi. He gives us his location by the banks of the river Chebar. Ezekiel 3:12-15 further tells us that he lived at Telabib, by the river Chebar.

This has been linked with the main irrigation canal built by Nebuchadnezzar close to Babylon. Telabib ‘mound of the flood,’ Ezekiel 3:15, a Jewish settlement, was in the immediate vicinity of the canal.

He lived among the exiles. ‘30th year’ cannot be conclusively stated what this refers to, but it is most likely to be the age of the prophet. The events of the flood were dated by the age of Noah. Genesis 7:6 / Genesis 7:11 / Genesis 8:13.

There is reason to believe that 30 was the age when the priest took on his proper functions. This is based on the commands given for the Levites. Numbers 4:3 / Numbers 4:23 / Numbers 4:30 / Numbers 4:39 / 1 Chronicles 23:3. Jewish writings do not confirm this.

Some use the fact that Jesus began his work at the age of 30 as added proof, but that proves nothing concerning Ezekiel. That being the case, Ezekiel trains to be a priest. God at the very time when he is ready to take up his duties, tells him he has some other work for him to do. We may plan what we wish to do for God with our lives, but we must always be prepared for him to have other plans. If the 30th year of 4th month on the 5th day refers to his age, He was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. and began preaching 5 years after, then his birth date must be approx. 622 B.C.

In this book we find the story of Ezekiel’s life and the prophecies he brought to the people. No other book in the Old Testament has the life of the prophet and the role of the prophet of God been so entwined except perhaps Hosea.

The vision is a vision of the glory of God, but it is the glory of God as manifested in his coming in just judgement! Here in the height of summer, he begins to date his writing by the exile of king Jehoiachin who was considered to be the rightful king by God and the Babylonians, they did not kill him, but treated him with respect. 1st July 592 B.C. 4th Month if dated by Babylon calendar Duzu, if Hebrew Tammuz, 2 Chronicles 36:10 / 2 Kings 25:27-30.

We read, ‘The word of Jehovah came.’ No apologies for the affirmation. No hesitancy or embarrassment. No begging leave to say such a thing. Ezekiel said, ‘God spoke to me!’ The message Ezekiel brings brought him no ease or popularity. It was contrary to his wishes and, therefore, not a daydream.

There is no indication of morbidity in the book, and so he cannot be accused of suffering from melancholia. The book is a perfect balance of realism and optimism. No, the only way to successfully assail the affirmation of verse 3 is to prove there is no God, or God cannot speak, or God could not speak to Ezekiel. Unless one of these is established, there can be no successful negative!

GOD SPOKE TO EZEKIEL

‘The hand of the Lord was upon him’ shows Ezekiel’s contact with God. Ezekiel 3:14 / Ezekiel 3:22 / Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 33:22 / Ezekiel 37:1 / Ezekiel 40:1.

Before moving on it is worth stating at the beginning that the meaning of much of what the prophets say is lost by looking at the details of their words rather than the overall picture. Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God coming in judgement, that is the overall picture in Ezekiel

1. Understand that, and you understand the first chapter.

Now obviously, it will help to look at some detail as well. Every prophet before starting his work as a prophet was given a vision of God.

‘He who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.’ 1 Samuel 9:9

The prophets had a vision of God. Numbers 12:6. The prophets saw, they did nothing without the motivation of God. The message of the true prophet was never self-motivated. Isaiah 6:1ff / Obadiah 1.

Now if the vision they receive is of or from God, who has the right to interpret it? The giver of that vision or dream. Hence, only God can properly interpret the vision given to each prophet. Daniel 2:17ff / 2 Peter 1:20ff. Jacob saw God at Peniel and his life was transformed from that hour. Moses went up to Mount Sinai and communed with God face to face and thereafter was marked for the rest of his life.

Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord in the sanctuary and his entire ministry was suffused with the beauty of the holiness of the Lord. Paul saw the risen and glorified Redeemer on the Damascus road and was blinded from that day on to all the allurements of the world. John saw visions of the glorious unfolding of God’s program for Christ, the church and all the redeemed, and as a result was unmoved by the adverse circumstances that surrounded him.

Ezekiel saw visions of the glory of the Lord God of Israel and his ministry never lost the impress of it. Such is the importance for Ezekiel’s life and ministry of Ezekiel 1 of the book of Ezekiel. The vision in Ezekiel 1 is referred to again in Ezekiel 10 and Ezekiel 11. In this inaugural vision the prophet is seeking to picture something which far surpasses the power of any human language to express.

His picturesque representation can be compared with Isaiah’s vision, Isaiah 6, because it expresses the absolute sovereignty of God. Among the attributes of God emphasized in the vision are His omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence.

The call of Ezekiel can be compared with that of Moses, Exodus 3, Amos, Amos 7:15, Isaiah, Isaiah 6, and Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:4-10. All had an encounter with God. So, did Paul in the New Testament record.

Not all the prophets record their vision or dream, Ezekiel tries. In his attempt to try and put into words what was before him, Ezekiel is lost for words. In a desperate attempt to explain the vision of a spiritual nature, he uses terms that do not fully explain itself.

Just read through Ezekiel 1, before we get into the text and notice his use of vague descriptive phrases.

You begin to get the impression that the prophet is having a hard time putting into words what he saw.

Characteristics of the vision

There was an electric storm.
There were 4 living creatures. Later identified as cherubim. Ezekiel 9:3 / Ezekiel 10:1.
They have an overall human shape.
They have 4 faces each, man, lion, ox (bull), eagle.
They have 4 wings, 1 pair folded, 4 hands, straight legs and feet like calves.
There were 4 wheels below them, with eyes in the rims of the wheels.
Two wings touch other cherubim, 2 cover their own body, this creates a square.
Above the 4 creatures is a space. Raqa same word in Genesis 1:5, Firmament.
Above the space is the throne of God.
There was fire in the midst of them.
There was life in the wheels.
There was one on the throne with a rainbow.
Four creatures had perfect coordination and harmony, faster than light, could move in any direction.
Seated on the throne was a human form. As this was a vision of the Glory of God, it must be God sitting on the
throne, like fire brightness, and blinding light.

The glory of the Lord

It was not Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar whom Ezekiel saw coming in judgement, but Jehovah. Notice whose chariot this is. What was going to happen was not because of the whim of an elderly despot, but by the will of God. Isaiah 10:5ff.

Ezekiel’s vision was from God and about God, the God of Israel was fulfilling what he had already promised. To warn the people by a prophet. Deuteronomy 18:18ff / Amos 3:7 / Genesis 6:13. Glory, kabod, weight, heaviness, honour.

There are nine different Hebrew words for glory and they appear, 155 times in the Old Testament and wherever you see the words, the glory of Jehovah or glory of the Lord it is the word Kabod, it appears 19 times in the book of Ezekiel, 12 times in the first 11 chapters, then a gap to Ezekiel 43:2.

It’s the glory that reveals God’s presence with his people and proclaims his holiness. The glory appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and the People. It filled the Tabernacle, once it had been erected, so that even Moses could not enter it.

Why the gap?

Is it because the sight of the glory of God does something to man? The glory of God first in Ezekiel 1, when Ezekiel was called like Isaiah and John. He sees it again in Ezekiel 3:23. In Ezekiel 8:4, like the vision that I saw in the plain. In Ezekiel 10:15-16 / Ezekiel 11:22 and never again until Ezekiel 43:2.

What is important to notice, ‘the glory has departed both Temple and city’ Ezekiel 3:4. Go speak to the people, by the river Ezekiel 3:22 go to the plain, Ezekiel 3:23 the same glory. Then down to Ezekiel 8, we see Ezekiel being miraculously transported from his house in Babylon, where he is speaking to the elders, carried off to Jerusalem. In his vision he finds himself in a vision of God. So that Ezekiel could see how the people were defiled. And so, we see that the Glory leaves the Temple.

Exodus 25:22, there I will meet between the two Cherubim, so in Ezekiel 9:3, the glory is at the entrance of the Temple sanctuary. In Ezekiel 10:3, the glory goes forth and stands over the cherubim in readiness for leaving. In Ezekiel 11:22-23, they mount into the air with the Glory of the Lord above them and move to the mountain to the East of the city, the mount of olives, higher than Jerusalem and giving a tremendous view over the city.

God had left Jerusalem. as Jesus said your house has left you desolate, Ezekiel’s vision closes here he tells the Exiles what he has seen. The significance, God’s Glory no longer dwells in Jerusalem, nor does his protection, the Babylonian’s can destroy at will. When does the Glory return? Ezekiel 43:2-6, the Glory returns from the direction from which it had gone, the glory Fills the Temple once more. The last words,

‘the Lord is there’!

Let’s get back to the text, ‘the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.’ This phrase also occurs in Ezekiel 3:22 / Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 33:22 / Ezekiel 37:1 / Ezekiel 40:1. This refers to Ezekiel’s experience of the vision. God’s hand is firm and compelling on him. He could feel the pressure and responsibility on him.

‘I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire, was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.’ Ezekiel 1:4-9

The Storm

Ezekiel saw a great storm cloud coming towards him from the north. As it drew nearer, he saw that it was the chariot throne of Jehovah borne by four cherubim. It is a basic Old Testament concept that the sovereignty of God is revealed both in His control of nature and of history.

Ezekiel is to be the bearer of the message that the deportation of the exiles and the coming destruction of Jerusalem are God’s act, so he is first given a vision of the mighty thunderstorm as a mere attendant on God’s throne.

Picture the boiling, rolling activity of clouds as they enfold themselves within themselves during tornado type weather. Picture too, incessant lightning activity in the clouds and the rays of the sun bathing the heart of the clouds with a golden, glowing garment of light, and we have some idea of what Ezekiel saw coming toward him out of the north. Clouds and lightning are associated with judgement and destruction.

‘Out of the north’

Why should the vision come out of the north? Because Israel’s enemies normally came from the north, following the line of the ‘fertile crescent’. Or nearer at hand from Israel, Syria etc. All came from the north. The point being then, that enemies were coming to destroy them.

God would use an enemy to destroy Judah as he had the northern kingdom. Isaiah10:5ff. Egypt was the exception, being a southerly enemy.

The glory of Jehovah dwelt in Jerusalem, Ezekiel 8-11, and the vision of its forsaking of the Temple had not yet been given. Jerusalem lay almost due west, and there was no need for God to take the long way around by Carchemish that the captives had had to follow. The desert was no obstacle to Him. One reason was doubtless to impress on the prophet to be that shame and ignominy, dishonour and disgrace, of the captives was not hidden from their God. He was willing to go the way that they had gone.

More important than this was the Babylonian belief that their gods lived in the far north, Isaiah 14:13. If the chariot throne came from the north, it meant that whatever gods might live there had been vanquished on the way. This is not to attribute to Ezekiel any real belief in these gods, but it was the sign that there was no power in heaven or on earth that could stop Jehovah on His triumphant way. Much of the idolatry seen by Ezekiel in vision is at the north gate of
the Temple. Ezekiel 8:3 / Ezekiel 8:5 / Ezekiel 8:14.

Perhaps Ezekiel is being shown that it is this idolatry which is causing the war chariot to come to Jerusalem. Coming in judgement

‘Living creatures’

The picture is of God’s war chariot. The cherubim are the chariot of God, His battle wagon, His vehicle of righteous war! He sits enthroned on His chariot. They are expressly called ‘the chariot’ in 1 Chronicles 28:18 and in Psalm 18:10, as we hear of his riding upon a cherub. They protect his righteousness. It is the cherubim who stand between the transgressors and the tree of life in Genesis 3:24.

The Veil

We find them woven into the veil which separates between the holy place and the holy of holies in Exodus 36:35 so that one could not enter into the presence of God without first passing them, and when this was done on that great day of atonement, it could only be accomplished at the expense of some innocent victim whose blood had to be shed. 1 Chronicles 28:18 / Psalm 18:10 / Exodus 37:1-6.

The Ark Of The Covenant

We find them on the top of the ark of the covenant in Exodus 37:6ff looking downward, gazing as it were at the law, the broken and mutilated law, contained in the box. Exodus 25:18-25. Were it not for the intervening mercy seat, a mercy seat upon which the blood of the innocent was poured, they would have demanded that righteous judgement be wrought on all the transgressors and that God’s holiness be vindicated.

Closest To God

We find them in Revelation 4:16ff, the closest beings to the One who there, sits enthroned. The endless task is to declare his righteousness and unapproachableness of the King by perpetually saying,

‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’

We find them in Ezekiel 9 and Ezekiel 10 as they work the vengeance of God upon both the inhabitants of the city and the city
itself.

Weapons

Six of them come with ‘slaughter weapons’ in their hands, and beginning at the sanctuary, they slay everyone who does not sigh and cry for the abominations done in Jerusalem. Psalm 18:12ff is echoed in Ezekiel 10 when a seventh cherub casts living coals upon the city of Jerusalem thus bringing righteous judgement upon it.

The Chariot Throne of God

In Ezekiel 1, we find the cherubim clearly pictured as the chariot throne of Jehovah. They are God’s executors of justice, the defenders of His holiness, His instrument of judgement upon the lawless! Cherubim, wherever found in Scripture, are related to the holiness of God. They do not represent a likeness of God, which was forbidden by command.

They are closely involved with the judgement in Ezekiel 9-11, of the city and the people. The cherubim will in fact be directly involved in the figurative ‘cleansing’ of the city and people.

What is the significance of their appearance?

We notice that the human form predominated amongst the four creatures. These are creatures, as opposed to the creator who sits above them. This vision is designed to make Ezekiel aware of what his message is to be. What he now sees is what he is to tell the people. Ezekiel 2 and Ezekiel 3.

‘Burnished brass/bronze hoofs’

This speaks of destructive power. This is said of Judah. Micah 4:13, of Jesus. Revelation 1:15. In this picture of judgement there is one small element of mercy, the rainbow. Ezekiel 1:27-28. Many suggest that these are similar to the winged man/animals so often seen amongst the Assyrian/Babylonian buildings. They suggest that Ezekiel was influenced by these. This is most unlikely.

The feet of burnished brass, copper, speak of power to destroy. The daughter of Zion is promised ‘hoofs of brass’ that she might arise and thresh her enemies, Micah 4:13. The origin of the symbol is not hard to find. The hoof was the usual instrument of threshing by trampling as we can see from Deuteronomy 25:4.

Four Faces

Here we have four creatures, each of which are the highest in their separate arenas. Man is supreme above all, the eagle and the lion chief predators on land and air respectively, the ox or bull, the most powerful domestic animal.

Their Wings

Their wings serve to preserve decency by covering their bodies, and to serve as a protection for the throne section. Each cherub had four wheels beside it, not attached to it. Ezekiel 1:15. Ezekiel 1:5 / Ezekiel 1:11 and Ezekiel 1:23 pictures four beings each the general shape of a man but having four faces instead of simply front and back. These beings stand in something of a square or a rectangle. They stretch two of their four wings toward each other thus forming an enclosed square. The other two wings cover their bodies.

‘Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. Ezekiel 1:10-14

Nine times in Ezekiel 1 the word ‘likeness’ is mentioned. We can only think of God by reasoning from what is highest in our thoughts of human greatness and goodness, entirely apart from their present limitations. Ezekiel did not see God Himself, John 1:18, but certain likeness and appearances conveyed to him the character and attributes of the majestic and sovereign God.

Reverent expositors find in the mention of a ‘man’ on the throne a strong hint of the great truth of the incarnation. He who is meant is the worthy Lord Jesus Christ. If God is to be portrayed in concrete form, the highest symbol man can use is the human form. When God wanted to reveal Himself in the supreme revelation of His person, He did so in the form of the Man Christ Jesus.

The four faces represent creature hood. The feet are described as straight feet because they were without a bend as at the knee, they were ready for motion in any direction. The hands of a man speak of the power of manipulation and a certain deftness of touch. The joining of the wings emphasizes the perfect unity of action on the part of the living creatures.

Their faces are that of a man, speaking of intelligence; of a lion, standing for majesty and power, of an ox, displaying patient service, of an eagle, depicting swiftness in meting out judgement, and discernment from afar.

The rabbis said of the living creatures,

‘Man is exalted among creatures; the eagle is exalted among birds; the ox is exalted among domestic animals, the lion is exalted among wild beasts, and all of them have received dominion, and greatness has been given them, yet they are stationed below the chariot of the Holy One.’

Burning Coals

The burning coals of fire point to the intensely pure and consuming justice of God that must punish sin. The fire travelled up and down, indicating the energy and vigour of God’s Spirit which is unwearied and un-resting, Psalms 104:4 / Hebrews 1:7. This shows God’s purifying and consuming justice being executed Ezekiel did not see a spaceship, but caught a glimpse of the glory of God coming in judgement. Isaiah 6:5 / Revelation 1:17 / 2 Corinthians 12:1-7.

‘As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.’ Ezekiel 1:15-22

Wheels

Wheels, it has been suggested mean primarily and naturally the revolution of time. The wheels connect the chariot with the earth. Nothing is stationary in God’s universe, all is in motion and progressing. Beside, close to, and under, Ezekiel 10:2, the cherubim are wheels, four of them for each creature. The wheels are within each other thus creating the appearance of rims. They are capable of going in any direction, something like the swivel wheels on grocery trolleys in a supermarket.

The Rims

The rims are full of eyes which gives them a dreadful appearance. The chariot of God knows no limitation of territory. North, south, east or west makes no difference. This was not true of the chariots of the nations for each knew his limitations and those who did not pay the price; but wherever transgression needed to be dealt with, there the cherubim would go. They could go in four directions, not simultaneously. The cherubim determined when the wheels moved, however as to the exact construction of the wheels within wheels,
there are countless explanations.

Notice that these creatures, the wheels, in fact the whole chariot had a ‘life’ about it. The wheels have eyes which give it a seeing ability. Ezekiel 10:12 suggests that there were in fact eyes everywhere. This chariot sees everything.

The rings or fellies are the circumferences of the wheels. The eyes are symbolic of divine omniscience in the workings of nature and history, Zechariah 3:9 / Zechariah 4:10 / Revelation 4:6 / 2 Chronicles 16:9 / Proverbs 15:3.

The wheels stress movement. God is on the move. The whole chariot moved according to the will of Him on the throne, not indiscriminately, but ‘straight’ towards the prey, the people.

‘Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.’ Ezekiel 1:23-23

The cherubim went straight forward, conveying to us the truth that the principles of God’s sovereignty go on without deviation. It is interesting that with their wings they covered themselves and flew. Worship is first and foremost, then service, Luke 10:38-42.

The Noise

The noise of the wings of the cherubim when on their way to judge was deafening and awe-inspiring, like the thunder of the mighty waves beating on cliffs, like the noise of a huge host on the march, like the voice of the Almighty Himself which terrorised Israel and Moses in the days of Sinai.

‘Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.’ Ezekiel 1:25-28

The Rainbow

In the midst of all the fire and lightning, noise and brightness, there is the rainbow, the one element speaking of mercy which softens the otherwise uniformity of its terror, the bow of promise which even today speaks of a merciful and covenant-keeping God.

The bow shows that the God of all majesty and power is also the God of promise and grace who is ever mindful of and faithful to His covenant regarding the earth. Ezekiel makes it clear that the vision concerns the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

The Talmud says there is the ‘large face’ of God and the ‘small face,’ and man can only see the latter. The effect of the vision on Ezekiel was the same as that on Daniel and John, Daniel 8:17 / Daniel 10:8-9 / Revelation 1:17 / Isaiah 6:5.

The appearance of God

The importance of the vision of this chapter can be seen by the threefold repetition, Ezekiel 3:22ff / Ezekiel 8:4ff / Ezekiel 43:1ff. Its significance was not only in the revelation that the temple and commonwealth of Israel in Jerusalem were to be summarily destroyed but in that God, was still in the midst of His people and would yet consummate His earthly kingdom in a future day in spite of the fact that God’s people were then in exile.

The old temple was to be destroyed, but the new one was yet to be built. The repetition of the vision relates it to all his ministry whether in speaking of judgement or of mercy, showing God’s un-resting activity was controlling all in a spirit of holiness and justice.

After the Lord’s self-revelation, Ezekiel will be charged to condemn Israel’s sins and to declare that judgement is soon to come. No prophet was given so strange, so complicated, nor so significant a revelation at his call as was Ezekiel. He had doubtless read and meditated on the manifestations of God, Exodus 19:16ff / Exodus 24:10 / 1 Kings 19:11 / 1 Kings 22:19 / Nahum 1:3 / Psalms 18:11/ Psalm 50:3 /1 Samuel 4:4 / 2 Samuel 6:2 / 2 Samuel 22:11 / Isaiah 6:1.

Conclusion

In Ezekiel 1 God has brought together in one vision the essence of all that was to occupy Ezekiel, just as is found in the initial vision of the apostle John in Revelation. When the average reader of the Scripture comes to a passage such as Ezekiel 1, he sometimes may conceive that the matters under consideration are far removed from his life and service.

But the opposite is true. Just as Ezekiel was a faithful messenger for God, warning of judgement for the unbelieving, and assuring of blessing for the believing, so we today have the unparalleled privilege to call all men to the truth in Christ.

If we have ever had a view of the holiness and majesty of our God, how can we fail to herald His message of urgency to the lost! If we are faithful, He has promised to call forth a remnant from all peoples. May God grant this fulfilment to be realised in our lives.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:1

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