Satan--His Origin And Mission [Part I]
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
As we make our way through this pilgrimage called “life,” surely we would count among the strongest aspirations of the human heart the desire to be content and happy—not in the mediocre sense of those words, but instead to be genuinely fulfilled and at peace both with ourselves and with the world in general. Oh, how we would like to be able to say with the writer of old (and actually mean it): “This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
But, as each of us knows all too well from personal experience, not every day causes us to “rejoice and be glad.” The simple truth is that things do not always go our way. Plans go awry. Fortunes are forfeited. Friendships are broken. Lives are lost. To echo the words of that ancient patriarch so famous for his perseverance in the face of adversity, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).
Facing the routine vicissitudes of life would be difficult enough on its own, without any outside force “stacking the deck.” Unfortunately, however, there is an outside force marshaled against us. Within the pages of Holy Writ, that “outside force” is identified by a variety of designations, but likely the best known and most widely used among them is the name: Satan.
In the Old Testament (where we first are introduced to the word, and where it is used approximately nineteen times), etymologically the Hebrew term satan is related to an Aramaic verb that means “to lie in wait,” “to oppose,” or “to set oneself in opposition to.” On occasion the term was employed to describe in non-specific terms any adversary, but whenever it was accompanied by the definite article (i.e., the adversary), it always indicated a proper name associated with mankind’s greatest adversary, Satan (Hiebert, 1975, 5:282).
In the New Testament (where the term Satan is used thirty-six times), the Greek word for Satan (satanas) indicates an adversary, opponent, or enemy, and “is always used of ‘Satan,’ the adversary...” (Vine, et al., 1985, p. 547). Another designation for our Great Adversary—“devil”—is used thirty-three times in the New Testament, and “...came into English through the German language from the Greek word diabolos. Diabolos means a slanderer, treacherous informer and, traitor” (Overton, 1976, 5:3).
Exactly who is this devil, Satan, who has established himself as God’s archfiend and mankind’s ardent foe? Is he real? If he is, what is his origin? Why has he arrayed himself against both God and man? What is his mission? What are his powers? And what is his ultimate destiny? These are questions that cry out from the human heart for answers. Fortunately, God’s Word provides those answers.
IS SATAN REAL?
Throughout history, both those who do not accept the Bible as the Word of God (unbelievers), and those who accept it but only marginally so (religious liberals), have disavowed the existence of Satan as a real, personal, spiritual being. Rather, they speak of him as a “myth,” and of his dealings with mankind as “legends” invented as vehicles of “moral teaching” intended to impart great spiritual truths. But neither he nor his activities is accepted as historical reality. For example, atheistic writer Isaac Asimov, who was serving as president of the American Humanist Association at the time of his death in 1992, wrote:
By New Testament times, the Jews had developed, in full detail, the legend that Satan had been the leader of the “fallen angels.” These were angels who rebelled against God by refusing to bow down before Adam when that first man was created, using as their argument that they were made of light and man only of clay. Satan, the leader of the rebels, thought, in his pride, to supplant God. The rebelling angels were, however, hurled out of heaven and into Hell. By the time this legend was developed the Jews had come under Greek influence and they may have perhaps been swayed by Greek myths concerning the attempts of the Titans, and later the Giants, to defeat Zeus and assume mastery of the universe. Both Titans and Giants were defeated and imprisoned underground. But whether Greek-inspired or not, the legend came to be firmly fixed in Jewish consciousness (1968, p. 540, emp. added; see also pp. 408-410).
The assessment of liberal-leaning religious writers does not sound much different. Andrew Zenos of Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Chicago suggested:
The apparent incongruity of a person (i.e., Satan) with such a frame of mind consorting with the other “sons of God” in the courts of heaven, giving an account of himself to, and speaking on familiar terms with, God, disappears when the narrative is seen to be constructed, not as a picture of realities, but as a vehicle of moral teaching... (1936, p. 811).
Almost half-a-century later, two writers, Neal D. Buffaloe and N. Patrick Murray, co-authored a text in which they wrote: “By contrast [to the literal, historical view of Genesis—BT], the mainstream of Biblical scholarship rejects the literal historicity of the Genesis stories prior to Chapter 12, and finds the literature of parable and symbol in the early chapters of Genesis.” Later, in referring to the events of these chapters, including Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, the authors stated that “these things never were...” (1981, pp. 5,8).
Because unbelievers reject belief in the spirit entity known as God (and, not coincidentally, the Bible as His Word), it hardly is shocking that they simultaneously repudiate belief in the spirit being known as Satan (whose actual existence can be documented only within God’s Word). Skepticism of, and opposition to, spiritual matters on the part of unbelievers should be expected. Skepticism of, and opposition to, such matters on the part of those professing to be believers should not.
The same Bible that informs the religious liberal about the existence of the God in Whom he proclaims to believe, also informs him of the existence of Satan—in whom he does not believe. Where is the consistency? Furthermore, consider the emphasis on Satan within the whole of the Sacred Text, the importance placed on the fact of his existence by both biblical writers and the Son of God Himself, and the critical role he has played in the necessity of God’s great plan of salvation for mankind.
The Reality of Satan in the Old Testament
From the first book of the Bible (Genesis) to the last (Revelation), the existence of the devil as a real, literal adversary is affirmed. Our first introduction to Satan occurs in Genesis 3 as he arrives in the form of a serpent to tempt Eve. Speaking of the historical nature of this account, M.W. Jacobus observed:
That there was a real serpent in this transaction cannot be doubted any more than we can doubt the real history throughout. Here, where the facts speak, further explanations are not necessary, nor fitted to the time of the beginning. (1) The real serpent is contrasted with the other animals, (vs. 1). (2) In the New Testament allusion is made to a real serpent in referring to the history (2 Cor. 11:3,14; 1 Jn. 3:8; Rev. 20:2). Yet (3) that there was in the transaction a superior agent, Satan himself, who made use of the serpent, is plain from his being referred to as “the old Serpent, called the Devil and Satan,” (Rev. 12:9)—“a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44) (1864, 1:112).
Additional Old Testament testimony addresses the historical existence of Satan. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, the text states: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.” Six verses later, this simple statement is found: “And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:7). Israel suffered as a direct result of Satan’s workings in the life of her monarch.
In the book of Job, Satan retains a place of great prominence—more, perhaps, than in any other Bible book. In the first two chapters alone, he is mentioned at least fourteen times. In fact, Job 2:1-2 records a conversation between this mendacious despot and God:
Again it came to pass on the day when the sons of God came to present themselves before Jehovah, that Satan came also among them to present himself before Jehovah. And Jehovah said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered Jehovah, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
The entire theological thrust of the book of Job is utterly dependent upon the actual existence of Satan, his adversarial nature toward God and mankind, and Heaven’s ultimate superiority over him. Further, the New Testament epistle of James boldly refers to Job’s dealings with Satan: “Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful” (5:11). What possible meaning could this have had to first-century saints who were about to endure extreme persecution and intense suffering as a result of their faith? An imaginary fight between a non-existent devil and a mythical patriarch could not, and would not, provide much comfort to those whose lives were in imminent danger. A promise that “the Lord is full of pity, and merciful”—based on real, historical events—could, would, and did provide such comfort in times of peril.
In Zechariah 3:1-10, the prophet recorded a vision “...intended to show that Jehovah’s people, conditioned upon a moral and spiritual reformation, could again enjoy prosperity” (Jackson, 1980, p. 75). In Zechariah’s vision, Satan appeared as an adversary of Joshua the high priest, who was clothed with dirty garments that symbolized “the sins of the whole nation, of which he was the representative” (Hengstenberg, n.d., p. 972).
And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary. And Jehovah said unto Satan, “Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan; yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (3:1-2).
In describing the spiritual importance of this scene, one writer commented: “Satan was ready to challenge the Lord’s own institution for the forgiveness of sin, to deny the right of God to pardon the sinner. He seeks to overthrow the Throne of Grace, so hateful to him, and to turn it into a seat of judgment and condemnation” (Laetsch, 1956, p. 422; cf. also Psalm 109:3-8). Satan’s part in this scenario hardly can be overstated. Without his act of overt condemnation, and God’s response to it, Zechariah’s message to the people of God would be lost. The activity and historical reality of Satan in the Old Covenant sets the stage for the urgency of God’s plan of salvation in the New.
The Reality of Satan in the New Testament
Within the pages of the New Testament, the existence of Satan is reaffirmed, and more of his cunning, deceit, and hypocrisy is revealed. Of paramount importance is the record of his temptation of the Son of God (Matthew 4:1-11; cf. Luke 4:1-13). Erich Sauer has noted:
The whole story of the temptation of Jesus proves beyond all doubt that we are here concerned with a factual and personal conflict between two protagonists. The accounts of the evangelists and the behaviour and words of Jesus show clearly that we are not here concerned with a mere “principle” of evil, but with a real, factually present, speaking and active person, not “the evil” but “the evil one” (1962, p. 64).
A few chapters later, we find Jesus referring to Satan as “Beelzebub” (Matthew 12:27), a term that originally meant “lord of refuse,” “lord of the flies,” or “lord of dung” (Easton, 1996). As such, it was an expression of extreme contempt that signified all that was the opposite of holiness and purity—hardly a name to be applied by the Lord to some harmless, legendary, mythical character of antiquity. Wayne Jackson has suggested:
As the serpent seduced Eve (Gen. 3:6) through the manifold channels of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the vainglory of life (I John 2:16), so he sought to solicit Christ to sin similarly (Matt. 4:1-11). Interestingly, he is denominated “the tempter” in that narrative. The Greek term is peirazon, a present tense participle—literally expanded, “the always tempting one”—which suggests his characteristic activity. Had the devil succeeded in causing Christ to sin, the Lord could not have served as the blemishless sin-offering (I Peter 1:19; II Cor. 5:21), and the entire human race would have been forever lost! (1980, p. 76).
Christ’s apostles also addressed the fact of Satan’s existence. And certainly they knew of which they spoke, for Satan is depicted within the pages of the New Testament as their ardent enemy. For example, the Lord informed Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). A fact often overlooked within this text is that the pronoun “you” in the Greek is plural, indicating that Satan wanted all of the apostles (see Jackson, 1980, p. 76). The apostle Paul spoke of “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) who has his “devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11), and even “ministers” who disguise themselves as righteous (2 Corinthians 11:15). The apostle John noted that “the devil sinneth from the beginning” (1 John 3:8), and lamented the fact that “the whole world lieth in the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Further, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was said to have been “a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). But perhaps most sinister is the fact that it was Satan who “put into the heart of Judas Iscariot” the idea to betray his Lord (John 13:2).
In addition, various New Testament writers referred to Satan as the author of sin (1 John 3:8), sickness (Acts 10:38), and death (Hebrews 2:14), and the one who leads men astray (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). The authors of Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Wordsmake an important observation when they state that:
“Satan” is not simply the personification of evil influences in the heart, for he tempted Christ, in whose heart no evil thought could ever have arisen (John 14:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15); moreover his personality is asserted in both the OT and NT, and especially in the latter, whereas if the OT language was intended to be figurative, the NT would have made this evident (1985, p. 547).
What the New Testament makes evident, however, is exactly the opposite—i.e., that Satan is notfigurative, but very real.
The Bible does not address specifically the origin of Satan, yet there is adequate information to draw a logical, well-reasoned conclusion as to how he came into existence. Consider the following.
Is Satan Deity?
Although quite powerful, Satan does not enjoy the status of deity. Clues to this fact are scattered throughout the pages of Holy Writ. Deity is eternal. Scripture speaks of “the eternal God” (Deuteronomy 33:27) Whose “years shall have no end” (Psalm 102:27), and Who is “the Alpha and the Omega..., who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). Deity is omnipotent. He is referred to as “God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1) Who cannot “be restrained” (Job 42:2). By “the thunder of his power” (Job 26:13-14) He has the might to create (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 45:12) or destroy (2 Peter 3:10). He alone retains the power to instill life (Genesis 2:7), and to raise the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Deity is omnipresent. “[T]here is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). He is “at hand” and “afar off ” (Jeremiah 23:23-24). He is able to “bring every work into judgment...every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Deity is omniscient. The psalmist wrote:
O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether.... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it (139:1-6).
God not only knows the past and the present, but the future as well (Acts 15:18). Indeed, “how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out” (Romans 11:33).
Satan, by comparison, does not possess these qualities. For example, he is not omnipotent. Scripture affirms: “greater is he [God] that is in you than he [Satan] that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When he sought to “sift” the apostles as wheat, he first had to “ask” for them (Luke 22:31). Satan is not omnipresent. His position as “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) was “delivered” unto him (Luke 4:6). When he eventually is cast permanently into his place of eternal torment, the devil will be powerless to resist (Revelation 20:10). In discussing the apocalyptic literature of the book of Revelation which speaks of Satan’s being “bound” (20:2), Hardeman Nichols observed: “The binding of Satan, we conclude, equally means that his work will be restrained in a certain realm...” (1978, p. 262). Omnipresence, by definition, is not restrained. Further, Satan is not omniscient. If we are sufficiently knowledgeable of the Word of God, and carefully wield that knowledge to resist him, the devil does not possess a superior knowledge sufficient to overcome us, but will “flee” (James 4:17; cf. Matthew 4:4). He is not intelligent enough to outwit us in order to “snatch” us from the Lord’s hand (John 10:28).
The only possible conclusion regarding Satan is that he is not deity. But such a conclusion has serious implications. If Satan does not partake of the nature of deity, then he cannot be eternal. Thus, he must be a created being. That, as Wayne Jackson has explained, is exactly what he is.
...[S]ince the devil is not of the nature of deity, it is obvious that he is a created being, for allthings and beings (outside the class of deity) are the result of creation—“for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” (Col. 1:16); this would include Satan as he originally was (1980, p. 78; emp. in orig.).
Was Satan Created “Evil”?
But what was Satan originally? When was he created? And was he created “evil”? The biblical evidence may be summarized as follows. The Scriptures categorically state that all things, as they had been created originally, were good. Genesis 1:31 records: “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (emp. added). In their Old Testament commentary on the Pentateuch, Keil and Delitzsch have observed:
By the application of the term “good” to everything that God made, and the repetition of the word with the emphasis “very” at the close of the whole creation, the existence of anything evil in the creation of God is absolutely denied, and the hypothesis entirely refuted, that the six days’ work merely subdued and fettered an ungodly, evil principle, which had already forced its way into it (1968, 1:67).
Thus, whatever else Satan may have been originally, he was good. God did not create Satan as an evil adversary; rather, Satan became evil. Some, however, have suggested that God’s statement in Isaiah 45:7—“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things”—indicates that God does, in fact, create things that are evil. This view results from a misunderstanding of the use of the word “evil” within the context of that passage. The statement obviously can have no reference to moral evil, since such is contrary to God’s holy nature (see Isaiah 6:3). Deuteronomy 32:4 describes Jehovah as the “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.” An in-depth examination of the passage in Isaiah reveals that God, through the prophet, was announcing to the (as yet unborn) Cyrus, king of Persia, his intention to use the monarch as an instrument for punishment. Notice in Isaiah 45:7 how the word “evil” is employed in direct contrast to “peace.” God’s point was this: “I form light and create darkness [viz., I control nature]; I make peace and create evil [viz., I also control nations]; I am Jehovah that doeth all these things.”
Later in the forty-seventh chapter, there is a commentary that further explains how the word “evil” is used in chapter 45, verse seven. In verse 11, as he described the coming judgment upon Babylon, Isaiah said: “Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know the dawning thereof: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it away: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou knowest not” (emp. added). The “evil” that God “created” was desolationdue to the abject wickedness of the Babylonian empire. In Isaiah 31:1-2, God similarly warned Israel that if the Hebrew nation forged an untoward alliance with Egypt, He would bring “evil” (i.e., punishment) upon them. “Thus, scholars have observed that ‘evil’ can be used with a purely secular meaning to denote physical injury (Jeremiah 39:12), or times of distress (Amos 6:3), and that is its significance in Isaiah 45:7” (Jackson, 1984, 1:84). When Job’s wife proposed that he curse God and die, his rejoinder was: “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10; emp. added). Job’s meaning is clear: shall we not receive punishment and correction from the hand of Jehovah, as well as innumerable blessings? Rex A. Turner Sr. has noted:
Solomon wrote: “A prudent man seeth the evil, and hideth himself; But the simple pass on, and suffer for it” (Prov. 22:3). The meaning of this statement from Solomon is that the prudent man sees public calamity approaching, and he uses all lawful means to secure himself. Evil here is put for dangers and calamities that befall men. Thus, God creates evil only in the sense that he brings punishment or calamity upon those who do evil. In no sense, therefore, has God created criminal or moral evil. In no sense has God provoked or brought about evil in any angel or man (1989, p. 79).
Is Satan a Fallen Angel?
There is compelling textual evidence within the Bible which indicates that originally Satan was one of the angels who inhabited the heavenly realm, and that he (along with others) departed from a righteous state and rebelled against God. There is a hint of this in the Old Testament book of Job. Eliphaz said of God: “Behold, he putteth no trust in his servants; and his angels he chargeth with folly” (Job 4:18). In discussing this wording, renowned commentator Albert Barnes wrote:
Language like this would hardly be employed unless there was a belief that even the holiness of the angels was not incorruptible, and that there had been some revolt there among a part, which rendered it possible that others might revolt also (1949, 1:lxiii; emp. in orig.).
Indeed, the New Testament seems to confirm that such a revolt did take place. In two separate passages, reference is made to just such a revolt. The apostle Peter said that “God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Another inspired New Testament writer wrote: “And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Since the Bible also refers to Satan as “the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24), and speaks of “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, emp. added), “...the only possible conclusion is that the devil is the leader of a group of angels who rebelled against God and were therefore expelled from heaven to eventually spend eternity in hell” (Workman, 1981, 1:4).
From references such as these, it is clear that God created angels (just as He has men) with the powers of reason and free will, which made it possible for them both to think and to choose. Turner has commented:
This is to say that angels had the freedom of choice—the freedom to fear and serve God, and the freedom to refuse to fear and serve God. Without intellect and freedom of absolute choice, angels could not be holy as God is holy. In the absence of free will, coupled with responsibility, there can be no true holiness (1989, p. 82).
But, as Lloyd Ecrement has noted: “They, therefore, have the ability to choose good or evil. It is possible, but certainly not necessary, for them to sin. If they choose evil rather than good, that is no reflection upon their Creator, but simply a rebellion against Him—they abuse the powers of reason and a free will given to them by God” (1961, p. 33). Apparently, certain of the angels chose wrongly, which is why Peter referred to the “angels when they sinned.” But John wrote that sin is “lawlessness” (i.e., transgression of God’s law; 1 John 3:4). In some fashion, then, the angels’ sin consisted of breaking God’s law by not keeping their “proper habitation,” but instead departing from whatever appropriate position it was that God had established for them.
Since Scripture speaks of “the devil and his angels,” it becomes reasonable to suggest that Satan was either the instigator, or leader (or both), of this heavenly revolt. What brought about this Satanic rebellion? Nichols, in speaking about sedition against legitimately established authority, has suggested that “...rebellion is generally attempted only by the headstrong and obstinate” (1978, p. 262). Henry M. Morris similarly observed:
The root of all sin, in both man and angels, is the twin sin of unbelief and pride—the refusal to submit to God’s will as revealed by His own Word and the accompanying assertion of self-sufficiency which enthrones the creature and his own will in the place of God. This was the original sin of Satan, rejecting God’s Word and trying to become God Himself (1971, pp. 214-215).
Victor Knowles has added:
Perhaps Satan became proud of his position as an angel and reached out, wanting more power and authority. What else could there be in heaven to battle for? It is possible that he may have harbored bitter envy and selfish ambition in his heart, for James says that such “wisdom” is “of the devil” (Jas. 3:14,15) (1994, p. 70).
When Did Satan Become Evil?
But when, exactly, did all of this take place? Numerous conservative scholars have suggested that likely the creation of the angels occurred during the first day of the creation week, but prior to the creation of the Earth itself (see Jackson, 1980, p. 78; Kelly, 1997, p. 93; Knowles, 1994, p. 69; Turner, 1989, p. 80; Whitcomb, 1972, p. 43). In speaking of God and His original creation, Knowles has commented: “Before creation of the world He created the angels, for they observed the process and rejoiced over it (Psa. 148:2,5)” (1994, p. 69). John C. Whitcomb concurred when he wrote that the angels “must have been created at the very beginning of the first day of creation, for Job 38:6,7 tells of their singing and their shout for joy at the creation of the earth” (1972, p. 43). Douglas Kelly also advocated such a position, but stressed caution, when he wrote:
Neither Genesis, nor any other text in Scripture, states when the angelic beings were actually created. What is definite is that angels are creatures, and thus do have a beginning. They are immortal, but only the Triune God is eternal, without beginning or endings. Reserve is necessary on such a speculative subject that has not been revealed to us by God in his Word....
Perhaps the angels were brought into being on the very first day of creation. In Job 38:4-7 we are told that the angels were present when the foundations of the earth were laid, and were rejoicing over it all. Psalm 104:2-5 speaks of the shining of God’s light during the original creative process, and mentions the angels just before reference to “laying the foundations of the earth.” Thus they appear after the creation of all things and before the earth is made a solid body.... These passages from Job and Psalms are certainly poetic, and are presumably not meant to be interpreted in the same precise, chronological sense required by Genesis 1 and 2. Poetic though its literary form is, it must mean something, and bear reference to a true state of affairs. Such passages may take us as far as we can go safely in consideration of the question: when were the angels first created? (1997, pp. 93, 94).
It is significant to remember, of course, that angels are finite, created spirits who were (and are) amenable to God’s law. Regardless of the exact time of their creation, the fact remains that certain of the angels, Satan among them, disobeyed that law, and as a result were cast from their spiritual abode. It is accurate to state, therefore, that Satan, and those dismissed from the heavenly realm with him, are fallen angels, and that their creation and transgression occurred sometime prior to God’s bringing the Earth into existence.
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