What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?—Mic_6:8.
1. Isaiah of Jerusalem and Micah the Morashtite, who lived at the same time, present a striking contrast. Isaiah was by birth an aristocrat, if not of royal descent; Micah was a yeoman from an obscure village. Isaiah was a statesman, Micah an evangelist. Isaiah addressed himself to the largest and highest political issues; Micah dealt with social morality and personal religion. It is not without significance that at first, though not ultimately, the fervent and pointed preaching of Micah was more effective than the majestic statesmanship and sublime teaching of Isaiah. An intensely interesting passage in the Book of Jeremiah (Jer_36:18) reveals the important fact that the famous reformation of Hezekiah was the direct result of the preaching of Micah.
Isaiah and Micah agree absolutely in their essential teaching, but each contemplates the present and the future from his own standpoint. Micah, a humble-minded countryman, realized the special wickedness of the two great Hebrew capitals, Jerusalem and Samaria. He drew a graphic picture of the social vices of the time. The judges were venal, the princes corrupt, the prophets mercenary; mammonism and luxury were rampant; the rich coveted fields and houses, and were ever extending their estates, crushing the poor, and divorcing the people from the soil. Those in authority remorselessly fleeced and flayed the hapless people. On the other hand, there was a most extravagant expenditure. The Temple and the city were made magnificent. But Micah, instead of being carried away by this architectural splendour, saw in the sanctuary and in the palaces of the privileged the blood of the disinherited, the exploited, the down-trodden poor. “They build up Zion,” he cries out, “with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.”
2. Now God, the King and Judge of His people, comes down from His lofty throne, His awful seat of judgment, to speak to rebellious Israel in another tone and under another character. He has rebuked in vain, He has punished in vain. His people go on sinning and heed none of His judgments. He feels that no small part of their sin is but senseless folly and perverseness. So He comes down not to command but to argue. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord”; and this is the meaning of Micah as well as of Isaiah. God is resolved to plead His own cause against Israel as though He were an equal; and He invites them to meet Him in the presence of the everlasting hills. For many an age those hills have looked down in silent, unchanging majesty on all the doings and all the sufferings of the people. Through summer and winter, day and night, sunshine and storm, they have remained the same, while one generation after another has been born and has grown up and has died out. In their solemn, stately presence God desires to have the matter argued out as between Him and His people. “Hear ye now what the Lord saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lords controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.”
3. There is no attempt of the people to do what they had been invited to do. They will not stand out openly beside the Lord and state their complaints against Him. They neither deny what He has done for them nor yet confess it. They have nothing to plead against Him, yet they will not say so. But they take for granted that He is a hard, grasping, exacting master. They think this argument of His with them is only meant to wring something out of them. So they demand to know how much He will take to let them off. Instead of honestly pleading their cause, they blindly inquire how they may satisfy the demands of the Lord. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
4. The text is the answer given to these wild and desperate questions, not directly by the Lord Himself, but by His holy prophet. The prophet has to speak for God to the people; but he is also himself one of the people, and so his message is that of a man who has gone through the same discipline as themselves. But the difference in his heart from their hearts has made all the course of life have a different look to him from what it has to them; and he speaks out of that which he knows, because he has felt it in himself. Not in language of rebuke or threatening, but in simple appeal to what they too might have known if they would, does he fulfil his office as Gods spokesman among men.
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Not the gifts which wealth can buy, not the sacrifices of selfish fear, not these shall bring you near to Him. You have nought to give but what He first bestowed on you, and with a breath could take away again. It is character that He wants, not presents—moral and spiritual character, integrity of soul, truth in the inward parts, and the pure heart which alone can see God. Not what you bring with you, but what you yourself are, can alone be your passport into His presence. Not your many prayers, not your bended knees, not your psalm singing, not your sound opinions, not your pious customs, your Sabbaths and fasts and many other observances, not these, but your just conduct, your merciful spirit, and your lowly heart, shall open to you the strait gate that leadeth unto life eternal.
In the eighth century b.c., in the heart of a world of idolatrous polytheists, the Hebrew prophets put forth a conception of religion which appears to me to be as wonderful an inspiration of genius as the art of Pheidias or the science of Aristotle. “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” If any so-called religion takes away from this great saying of Micah, I think it wantonly mutilates, while, if it adds thereto, I think it obscures the perfect ideal of religion.1 [Note: Huxley, in The Nineteenth Century, Dec. 1885.]
The Congressional Library in Washington is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Each alcove of the reading-room is decorated with a distinct and separate design, the decorations in one alcove being in honour of art, in another of history, science, music, philosophy, etc. Before the motto was chosen for the alcove of religion, the Committee entrusted with the matter sent out a request to prominent clergymen and leading religious teachers asking them to send in such for competition. The motto finally selected was the text from Micah—“And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”1 [Note: A. Lewis, Sermons Preached in England, 221.]
If, indeed, there be a nobler life in us than in these strangely moving atoms,—if, indeed, there is an eternal difference between the fire which inhabits them, and that which animates us,—it must be shown, by each of us in his appointed place, not merely in the patience, but in the activity of our hope; not merely by our desire, but our labour, for the time when the Dust of the generations of men shall be confirmed for foundations of the gates of the city of God. The human clay, now trampled and despised, will not be—cannot be—knit into strength and light by accidents or ordinances of unassisted fate. By human cruelty and iniquity it has been afflicted;—by human mercy and justice it must be raised; and, in all fear or questioning of what is or is not, the real message of creation, or of revelation, you may assuredly find perfect peace, if you are resolved to do that which your Lord has plainly required,—and content that He should indeed require no more of you,—than to do Justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.2 [Note: Ruskin, Ethics of the Dust, Lect. x. § 121 (Works, xviii. 360).]
1. Justice, righteousness—that is the basis of all moral character, the essential quality of a good man. It is a great word this “righteousness,” and covers all our relations to each other and to God, forbidding wrong of every kind and under any plea, placing all men, high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, on the same moral level, and calling us to do justly to them all alike, for that is the due of the meanest and the weakest as much as of the greatest.
Justice is one of Gods own glorious attributes. He is a just God; there is no unrighteousness in Him. He would have His children to be like Him, and thus reflect His image. The child of God should be just to his servants, his customers, his employees, to all with whom he has any dealings. Masters should be just to their servants, giving them a fair equivalent for their work. Servants ought to deal justly with their employers in filling their working hours with honest labour instead of trying to escape with doing as little as possible.
Justice had been taught Israel by institutions like the jubilee year, which rectified the wrongs that periodically recur in complicated society—giving liberty to helpless slaves, and restoration of land to those from whom it had been alienated. Merciful provision for the poor was made through institutions from which the twentieth century has still much to learn, even while we thankfully acknowledge the labours of good men who have abrogated the cruel acts of olden time in England. Consideration for others was taught by ordinances like those which forbade the second going over of the vines and the gleaning of the fields. Even capitalists and owners were to be taught that they had no right to secure to themselves all they could get. The claim of the labourer for a days wage for the days work was not to be neglected, was not even to be delayed in settlement, and the vicious principles of long credit and consequent usury were hit hard by Mosaic laws. On the other hand, mans relations to God were indicated by the Sabbath days, which were Gods claim on time; by the tithes, which were Gods claim on income; by the first-fruits, which were Gods claim on increase; by thank-offerings, which were Gods claim on thankfulness; and by burnt-offerings, which symbolized Gods claim on a mans whole self. The more we study the institutions of the old dispensation, the more clearly we see the truth of Micahs declaration so far as every son of Israel was concerned: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good.”
2. What is our obligation to be just? Is it the civil and criminal courts of law? The large majority of unjust acts are not punishable by these courts. Is it the belief in a coming day of judgment? That is an obligation to self-interest, not to justice. Is it the welfare of the greatest number? In the order of nature number one is the greatest, and each man is for himself. Is it the existence of a power called conscience? That is the very thing to be explained. What is conscience? It means literally a “knowing together.” In the things of this world it is the sight of my brother in my own looking-glass, my seeing of him in me. In the most common act of justice, I have, I must have, a double vision; he and I are reflected in one mirror. There can be no justice without sympathy, and there can be no sympathy without substitution.
It is a familiar doctrine of theologians that Christ “offered up a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice”—to pay the debts of man. It is truer than some of these theologians dream of. It is not an abnormal, a miraculous thing. It is the illustration of a universal principle which holds always, everywhere. To estimate the debt of another is not an easy thing; it demands a sacrifice. It was a bold and a deep insight which ventured to affirm that Christ Himself was no exception to the law. To estimate the debts of man He, too, had to descend—to sacrifice. He, too, had to begin, not only by self-forgetfulness, but by incorporating a new self—a servants form. He had to put Himself in the place, in the environment, of the debtor. He had to consider his circumstances, to live within his experience. He had to measure the influence of his heredity, the force of his passions, the strength of his temptations, the contagion of his surroundings, the power of his examples, the bane of his upbringing. All this and infinitely more, to Christ, to us, to every living spirit, is involved in estimating the moral debt of another.
When we affirm that justice is an attribute of God, our conception of justice is a human one, but if man is made in the image of God, as Christianity affirms, and God not fashioned after the image of man, the fact that it is a human conception does not prevent it from being an attribute which really exists in God; and when we affirm that Gods justice is perfect we mean that Gods omniscience gives Him a perfect knowledge of the minutest circumstances connected with each individual, and that this enables Him to estimate correctly the precise degree of his responsibility. This knowledge man has not, and, therefore, as far as this ignorance prevails, his estimate of the character of an act is imperfect, and, consequently, the judgment formed of it partakes of the same degree of imperfection. But this defect of our knowledge does not prevent our conception of justice from being a true representation of that attribute as it exists in God. The only difference between justice as administered by God and justice as administered by man is that the omniscience of God enables Him to take into account the circumstances of a mans birth, of his surroundings, and of those tendencies which have been transmitted from ancestors, with the formation of which as an individual he has had nothing to do, and for which he is therefore irresponsible. This a human judge is incapable of doing, and therefore justice, as administered by him, is necessarily imperfect.1 [Note: C. A. Row, Future Retribution, 24.]
1. There is an instinctive mercy in the heart of man. It is described by one word—pity. Pity is the instinct of mercy, and it belongs to man as man. But is pity also the love of mercy? Love supposes some object of attraction. Does pity imply an object of attraction? Is the sensation of pity one of attraction at all? In the living being attraction involves a certain amount of pleasure. Is not the sensation of pity one of pain? It is true men go to witness on the stage scenes of horror. But they do not go on account of the horror; they wish to see the situations of dramatic power which the horror will bring forth. Pity is a sensation which in itself and by itself is painful, and therefore repulsive. The men of the most pitiful nature are precisely those who wish most to avoid it. This is surely not the love of mercy.
Where will you find a kinder-hearted soul than Oliver Goldsmith? No beggars cry could reach his ear without emptying his pocket. And yet, if Oliver saw the beggar in the distance, he turned the corner to escape him. It was not the wish to protect his money; it was the desire to escape the pain of a sad story. How many a young minister making his parochial rounds feels exactly the same in relation to the contact with sorrow!2 [Note: G. Matheson, The Bible Definition of Religion, 35.]
2. But the prophet tells us that we must love mercy. There is no religion without love. The man who does good, but does not love, is not a good man. He pretends to be, but would be different if he could. Hence, while the prophet begins with doing, he reminds us that our doing justly must spring from a corresponding inward motive, which he describes as loving mercy. This is the only guarantee that we shall act in accordance with justice. It alone supplies the power which shall keep us up to this standard of conduct in face of difficulty or strong temptation to forsake it. If a man does not love a principle or the course of action which is prescribed, he will find some way of evading or only partially recognizing it. And to do justly is often so directly opposed to what seems to our advantage at the time, or to what our natural instincts prefer, that nothing will enable us to overcome these but the love which pays homage to righteousness for its own sake, and finds more satisfaction in doing it than could possibly be found under any circumstances by its sacrifice. And it is not only justice we are to love but mercy. For the best way to secure that a lower duty shall be done is to love a higher one that embraces it. Even to love to give a man what is really his due is not to be governed by the most generous of motives. It encourages a precise and rigid way of looking at things. It is always ready with its foot-rule to see that it gives no more, if it gives no less, than the precise measurement. It stands with the scales in its hands (as Justice was fabled to do of old) and is mainly concerned to see that the beam of the balance is straight. But we are required to do something more than this. We are to love mercy.
Many fulfil the first requirement but stop short at the second. They do justly, but they do not love mercy. They are as upright as a marble column, and as cold and as hard. They lift themselves up in their integrity like some snow-clad mountain peak; but it is always winter-time with them; no gentle beam ever falls on them to thaw the ice, and make the generous stream to flow in blessing to the valley beneath. They never ask any favours and they never wish to give any.
A sage, Baroka by name, while walking one day in a crowded market-place, suddenly encountered the prophet Elijah, and asked him, who—out of that vast multitude—would receive the highest reward in the Future State. Whereupon the Prophet pointed out a weird-looking person—a turnkey, because he was merciful to his prisoners. And next, two commonplace workmen who were walking through the crowd pleasantly chatting together. The sage instantly rushed after them and asked “In what consists your special merit?” But they, much puzzled, replied: “We are but poor workmen. All that can be said for us is that we are always of a cheerful spirit and good-natured. When we meet anybody who seems sad we join him, and we talk to him, and cheer him till he forgets his grief. And if we know of two persons who have quarrelled, we talk to them and persuade them till we have made them friends again. Nothing more. This is our whole life.”1 [Note: Jewish Chronicle, Nov. 21, 1913.]
Small things are best;
Grief and unrest
To rank and wealth are given;
But little things
On little wings
Bear little souls to heaven.
3. When a man loves mercy and exercises mercy towards men because of his love for humanity, he will have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and to look upon all he has and is as a means to an end. If God has given a man an abundance of this worlds goods, it is not that he may sit in idleness, but that he may become the benefactor of men. If He has given one broad shoulders and strong muscles, it is not that he may tyrannize over the strong, but that he may lift up the weak. If to another He has given great powers of mind and heart, it is not that he may make others his servants, but that those powers may be utilized to the blessing of humanity.
Think of that noble Father Damien among the lepers at Molokai—the lovely island in a smiling sea, which looks a Paradise, but is the home of miserable lepers who long for death. Their only hope has come through that brave messenger of mercy who was himself stricken with the fell disease and wrote to a friend: “Almighty God knows what is best for my sanctification and with that conviction I say daily a good Fiat voluntas tua—let Thy will be done.”
Think, lad, of living ones life, ones life with such as these;
To leave all bright and fair for horror and foul disease,
For the sick that none can cure, the sore that none can aid—
Do you think the stoutest heart could face it undismayed?
And more—to know full well its like will come to pass,
Ones own clean body and sound shall be this hideous mass,
This loathsome, shuddering heap one fain would put away
In the breast of the kindly earth, to hide from the eye of day.
He heard the call nor stayed: “My Master, here am I!”
His work was there, and he went to do his work and die.
Hope to the hopeless he bore, and the comfort that comforteth
To the hearts of men who lay in the vale of the Shade of Death.
He has loved and worked for the lepers, its now the fourteenth year,
And the stroke has fallen at last, and the end it draweth near;
He will love and work to the end, as surely the martyrs can
Who follow the bleeding feet of the martyr Son of Man,
The feet that fathomd and scaled, or ever their rest was won,
The awful abyss of love, and its heights that know the sun.
“Walk humbly with thy God”
Here we have a word which occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Translators have struggled with it. The earliest of them, the Greek translators of the Septuagint, render it “Prepare yourselves to walk with God.” It seems to point, in the original, to that devotion of ones self to the purpose of knowing God which leads one to put everything else aside, to examine his own heart and life, to humble himself into a sense of his own ill desert which shall, as it were, empty his heart of all else, that God may come and dwell in it. It points to a private and personal discipline, and recalls the many other instances in the Bible where a man is spoken of as “dwelling in the secret place of the Most High,” or entering into secret intercourse with his Maker.
1. Walking with God implies a personal faith in God. This is something more than a mere acknowledgment of Gods existence, for “the devils believe and tremble”: it is something more than a belief in an infinite power—it implies a faith in a personal God. A man cannot “walk with” the God of Pantheism or with the God of Deism. He may recognize the greatness of the latter, and have spiritual communion with the former, but he can only “walk with” the God of Theism—a personal, present God, who is the God of Christianity.
It is the peculiarity of the Bible that it makes God a personality, brings Him down into communion with men. Philosophy demonstrates and proves that there is a God by a slow logical process, and finally lifts us up on a great platform where we can take a telescopic view of the Almighty. Oriental mysticism meditates about God; it stands afar off and gazes upon the effluence of His glory. The Bible gives us a sense of a personal relation to Him. It is full of it. The Psalms overrun with it, and that is the reason why they live for ever, and are read more than any other part of the Old Testament. They are all glowing with a sense of the personal presence of God. They make us feel that affection, wisdom, goodness are not abstractions, but qualities of a kindred personality. That is the peculiarity of the Bible. It makes God a kindred personality; He hears our prayers and consorts with our weakness. There is a personal God revealed in the Bible, with whom we may commune and walk. As we do, we become like Him, and we obtain, therefore, in ourselves the real springs and powers of all good feeling and all good action. The essence of religion is in walking humbly with God; while we do this and when we do this we shall love mercy, we shall do justly.
Personal Christianity is a communion of the soul with the living God through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Herein is really included all that belongs to the characteristic life of Christendom—revelation and faith, conversion and the comfort of forgiveness, the joy of faith and the service of love, lonely communion with God, and life in Christian fellowship. All this is only truly Christian when it is experienced as communion with the living God through the mediation of Christ. When we believe in a mans personal Christianity we are convinced that he stands in that relation towards God in which all this takes place.1 [Note: W. Herrmann, The Communion of the Christian with God, 9.]
2. Walking humbly with God implies not only a personal faith in a personal God, but a personal faith in a personal God of infinite greatness, in the presence of whom humility must be shown. We must “bow low” and become as little children in order to enter His Kingdom. Such a faith in God means obedience and love of God. We are to love and hate what He loves and hates, for only as they are agreed can two walk together. The nations that have this faith in God most fully will survive longest. “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.”
The Jew believed himself to be walking with God, and to be walking alone; he claimed a light which the surrounding nations had not. His attitude towards the God with whom he walked was deeply humble—rather too humble; he was afraid to commune with Him. But though he was too tremulous to enjoy his walk with God, he had great pride in the reputation of it. He wanted the surrounding nations to look at him as he passed by. He desired men to see that he had a peculiar privilege, that he was a marked man, a distinguished man. He wished those on the worlds road to be aware that he was one out of the common—chosen, precious. His walk with God was not a state of pride, but it was a source of pride. He boasted of it; he displayed it. On the ground of it he separated himself from his kind. He dwelt apart from the nations. He recognized haughtily and at a distance the brotherhood of common men. He flourished in his hand that torch which gave him superior illumination, and he bade the outside multitude attend and admire. Such is the pride which Micah says pure religion must conquer.
Humility is the great ornament and jewel of Christian religion; that whereby it is distinguished from all the wisdom of the world; it not having been taught by the wise men of the Gentiles, but first put into a discipline, and made part of a religion, by our Lord Jesus Christ; who propounded Himself imitable by His disciples so signally in nothing as in the twin sisters of meekness and humility; “learn of me, for I am meek and humble; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” For all the world, all that we are, and all that we have, our bodies and our souls, our actions and our sufferings, our conditions at home, our accidents abroad, our many sins and our seldom virtues, are as so many arguments to make our souls dwell low in the deep valleys of humility.1 [Note: Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living, chap. ii. sec. iv.]
3. Is this everything? If to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with ones God is all that is required, what advantage hath Christianity? Much every way, but chiefly in this: man has ever known his duty, but he has ever lacked the power to fulfil it. Christianity alone has supplied the power. The world has been like a well-constructed but motionless machine; it needed what Christianity has supplied—motive power. Call it conscience, moral sense, natural religion, what you will, man has ever had a sacred witness and a faithful monitor; but what has that availed? The bitter cry of human helplessness has ever been going up:
Ah, if he gives not arms as well as rules,
What can he more than tell us we are fools?
Christianity has given “arms,” whilst every other system merely furnished “rules.”
The essentials of a religious life have always been the same. The difference between the Old Testament and the New is not a difference of kind, but a difference of degree. Jesus Christ repeatedly affirmed that He had not come to inaugurate a new religion. “Think not that I came to destroy the law and the prophets; I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.” The law was given for a foundation, the “grace and truth” of Jesus Christ for fulfilment; just as the artist first places on the canvas the firm clear outlines of his figures, then lays on the colours which give grace to the form and expression to the features.
Our Lord has really added nothing to these words of Micah. What He has done has been to put these truths in a new setting; to read them with a wider and deeper application; to embody them in His own life, and thus to enforce them with greater authority; to give us a new motive for obedience, and greater power to obey. What does the cross of Christ say to us but “Do justly”? It shows us the enormity of sin, its awful consequences, its proper deserving, the rigour of the Divine justice which could not forgive without such satisfaction. What, again, does the cross of Christ say to us but “Love mercy”? There is the crowning exhibition of pity and love! We look, and say with John,” If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” And it is at the cross that we find the way “to walk humbly with our God.” Every barrier has been removed there. Through Him who hangs there we have “access unto the Father.”
Speaking at the Keswick Convention in 1902, the Bishop of Durham (Dr. Handley Moule) remarked: “Twenty years ago, it was said to me by a young Oriental student at Cambridge, just on the verge of stepping into the full light of God and joy in Christ, after long and cautious inquiries into Christianity—it was said to me in words that I cannot forget—I have been reading your sacred Book; and the difference between it and our sacred books in the East is not altogether in its precepts; for there are wonderful precepts, high and great, also in our books; but your Book, and yours alone, contains, I see, the secret of how they may be done. ”
The power of man to stand between abstract truth upon the one side and the concrete facts of life upon the other comes from the co-existence in his human nature of two different powers, without the possession of both of which no man possesses a complete humanity. One of these powers is the power of knowing, and the other is the power of loving. The power of knowing, however the knowledge may be sought or won, whether by patient study or quick-leaping intuition, including imagination and all the poetic power, faith, trust in authority, the faculty of getting wisdom by experience, everything by which the human nature comes into direct relationship to truth, and tries to learn, and in any degree succeeds in knowing—that is one necessary element of manhood. And the other is Love, the power of sympathetic intercourse with things and people, the power to be touched by the personal nature with which we have to do—love therefore including hate, for hate is only the reverse utterance of love, the negative expression of the souls affection; to hate anything is vehemently to love its opposite. Love thus, as the whole element of personal affection and relationship of every sort, this, too, is necessary, in order that a man may really be a man.…
The New Testament tells us of Jesus that He was full of Grace and Truth. Grace and Truth! It must have been in the perfect meeting of those two elements in Him that His mediator-ship, His power to transmute the everlasting truths of God into the immediate help of needy men consisted. He was no rapt self-centred student of the abstract truth; nor was He the merely ready sentimental pitier of the woes of men. But in His whole nature there was finely wrought and combined the union of the abstract and eternal with the special and the personal, which made it possible for Him, without an effort, to come down from the mountain where He had been glorified with the light of God, and take up instantly the cure of the poor lunatic in the valley; or to descend from the hill where He had been praying, to save His disciples half-shipwrecked on the lake; or to turn His back on the comforting angels of Gethsemane, that He might give Himself into the hands of the soldiers who were to lead Him to the cross.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, 8.]
Life for God
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