The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 8, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
Have you ever systematically read through the Bible? If so, what did you do when you came to the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles? If we are honest, most people, including preachers, would admit that they skip these chapters. Why? Genealogy can be extremely boring, and, generally, we do not look forward with great delight to reading it. But in the gospels we find a genealogy that gives us great hope and encouragement. Why? The grand climax of this genealogy is God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and the King of nations.
As we open the New Testament, then, we find the genealogy of Jesus Christ recorded in the gospel accounts. Matthew begins his gospel with "the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham," and traces Christ's genealogy in a descending order from Abraham to Jesus. After telling of the events surrounding Christ's birth and the beginning of his public ministry, Luke traces Christ's genealogy in ascending order from Jesus to David to Abraham to Adam. Mark does not give a genealogy, but John traces the origin of our Lord to eternity. He says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." And we must note that John's emphasis on eternity is in accordance with Micah's prophecy in Micah 5:2, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are of old, from ancient times."
A Record of the Genealogy
In this study we will consider the genealogy as found in the first seventeen verses of Matthew 1. First, we must examine the title as found in verse 1: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham." This literally means the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, but there are questions about this title. It could be that this is the title to the genealogical list that we find in verses 2-17, or it may be a title or caption to the first two chapters of Matthew, which speak about the birth of Jesus Christ. According to some scholars, it could even be a title to the entire gospel of Matthew.
"A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ son of David, son of Abraham," Matthew says. Now we see this phrase, "the record of the genealogy," or "a book of the generation" in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. In Genesis 5:1 we read, "This is the written account of Adam's line." In the same way Matthew gives us a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who will make all things new. Through Christ there will be a new creation, a new man, a new heaven, and a new earth.
The Name of Jesus Christ
Notice that Matthew uses the name Jesus. This is a shortened form of the Jehoshua or Jeshua. The emphasis in the name of Jesus is on the action he performs, which is salvation. As we read also in Matthew 1:21 that his name is Jesus "because he will save his people from their sins." And notice that in Matthew 11 Jesus calls all people to come to him to give them rest for their souls.
Jesus is also called Christ here, which means the Messiah, the Spirit-anointed one. Jesus is the Christ, the one who has been qualified to do a task. What is that task? First, it is the task of revealing God, which is the task of a prophet. Second, it is the task of saving sinners, which is the task of a priest. Christ offered himself as the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. And third, it is the task of dominion, which is the task of a king. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who will rule and reign over all.
Jesus himself spoke about this anointing. In the synagogue at Nazareth he read one day from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, saying, "'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your healing'" (Luke 4:18-21).
Truly Jesus is the Christ--the anointed prophet, priest and king. Moses spoke about him as prophet in Deuteronomy 18: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him" (v. 15). What would happen if someone did not listen? "If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account" (v. 19). God would judge such a person, in other words. And in the New Testament God the Father said concerning Jesus, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Mt. 17:5).
God's beloved Son, Jesus Christ, came as the prophet to declare to us who God is and how we can be saved. He is also a priest, anointed not after the order of Aaron, but, as we are told in Psalm 110, after the order of Melchizedek, as a priest forever. And not only that, Jesus Christ is king. We read about that in Psalm 2:6-12. He is the king who rules with an iron scepter.
Son of David
We are told in the caption in Matthew 1:1 that Jesus Christ is the son of David. Now what does that mean? Matthew is harking back to the Davidic covenant as recorded in 2 Samuel 7. God promised David that through his offspring the throne of his kingdom would be established forever. In 2 Samuel 7:16 we read, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever."
Who is the seed of David through whom his kingdom was established forever? Was it Solomon? No. The offspring of David that God referred to was not Solomon, but Jesus Christ, declares Matthew. David was a great warrior who conquered all the enemies of Israel for a season. But the kingship of Jesus Christ, David's son, is forever. As King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus shall conquer all his enemies and bring about eternal peace and salvation for his people.
Jesus is not only the Son of David, but in Matthew 22:41-46, we are told that he is also the Lord of David. Isaiah spoke about him in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah 750 years before the birth of Jesus Christ: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse. . ." The tree of the Davidic kingdom would be cut down, but a shoot, Jesus Christ, would come up, and we see this reflected in Matthew's genealogy. The genealogy is divided into three sections. The first section speaks about the rise of the Davidic kingdom, the second section speaks about its decline, and the third section speaks about its eclipse.
The tree of the Davidic kingdom was cut down and simply a stump was left. But notice, Isaiah sees it and says, "A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord--and he will delight in the fear of the Lord." In Isaiah 9:6-7 we are told, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." That is what Matthew is speaking about.
Jesus is this Branch, this child, this son. He is the son of David, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the one who will conquer all his enemies and bring about peace and salvation for his people.
Son of Abraham
Not only that, Jesus is the son of Abraham, as we are told also in Matthew 1:1. Matthew is referring to the Abrahamic covenant, which we find in Genesis, beginning in chapter 12: "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you'" (Gen. 12:1-3). In Genesis 17:6-7 the Lord tells Abraham, "I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you." And in Genesis 22:18 we find a very interesting reference. God tells Abraham, "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed." The blessing is not coming through Abraham but through his offspring. Who do you think that is? That offspring through whom all the peoples of the earth will be blessed is Jesus Christ. That is what Matthew has in mind.
When we examine the events surrounding the birth of Isaac, we must note that there was supernatural activity in the life of Abraham as well as in Sarah in accordance with God's own promise. And when you look at the events around the birth of Jesus, there was also supernatural activity. Both were supernatural events, but only one person was virgin born--Jesus Christ. And it is Jesus Christ, not Isaac, who is the offspring of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed, as Paul clearly states in Galatians 3:16, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ." Beyond the shadow of doubt, St. Paul identifies this seed of Abraham, through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, as Jesus.
The Son of Judah
Then Matthew says that Jesus is the seed of Judah. In Matthew 1:3 we read, "Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. . ." and here we must ask why Judah is in this genealogy of Jesus Christ. Have you ever considered that? Have you ever wondered why it is not Reuben, who was the oldest of Jacob's sons, or Simeon or Levi, who were older than Judah? Have you ever asked why the godly Joseph is not listed here? The answer is because of divine election. God is sovereign and he does what he pleases. Who can tell him what he should do or why? Who can thwart his purposes? Both Nebuchadnezzar and Job had to learn that. God does what he pleases, and all that he does is just, true and right. He is the sovereign Lord. So God himself is the reason that Judah is included in this genealogy.
Now, we know something about Judah from the Genesis account. He was not an honorable character. He routinely committed adultery and engaged in prostitution. Then why is Judah listed here in the genealogy of God's holy Son? Again, God's choosing is according to his own sovereign will. As Paul says in Romans 9:16, "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort but on God's mercy."
The Spirit of God came upon Jacob before he died and he prophesied about Judah. All his sons were with him--Joseph, Reuben, Simeon, Levi--but Jacob said, "The scepter," meaning rulership, "will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his" (Gen. 49:10). From Judah came David and from him came Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This was divine determination, divine election, and divine good pleasure.
A List of Women
There are some particular abnormalities we notice in Matthew's genealogy. First, we see the names of five women in this list. Normally, Jewish genealogical lists did not contain the names of women. Why? Women were regarded as things, not persons. In his study of Matthew, William Barclay wrote that a woman was merely the possession of her father or husband to dispense with her the way he wanted. In his regular morning prayers a Jewish man would thank God that he had not made him a Gentile, a slave or a woman. So the inclusion of women's names in this genealogy is instantly surprising. One woman is Mary, but who are the other four?
The first woman listed is Tamar. Tamar was a Gentile, a Canaanite, who played the role of a prostitute. She was the daughter-in-law of Judah, and Judah fathered Perez and Zerah through her via prostitution. Yet her name and the name of one of her sons is in the genealogical record of the ancestry of Jesus. If we really think about that, we must surprised and shocked.
The second woman is Rahab, another Gentile. She was probably the leading prostitute in the city of Jericho at the time. Yet she is also listed in this genealogy, and in Hebrews 11:31 we are told of her faith in her God. Rahab believed God, was saved, and became the mother of Boaz, the ancestor of David and Jesus.
The third woman is Ruth, who was a foreigner, a Moabitess. In Deuteronomy 23:3, God prohibited any Moabite or his descendants to enter the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation. Yet we find Ruth, a true believer, in this genealogy--Ruth, the wife of Boaz and mother of Obed.
The fourth woman is not named but she is described as Uriah's wife. We know her as Bathsheba, and she may have also been a Gentile, according to some scholars. One thing we do know is that Bathsheba was an adulteress who married David, a murderer, adulterer, and thief. Yet in the divine plan Bathsheba is included in the genealogy of the Holy One, Jesus Christ.
The inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba tells us that Jesus Christ breaks down all barriers of race--Jew and Gentile; all distinction of sex--male and female; and any other distinction--righteous and unrighteous, saint and sinner. Truly, in Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, will all the peoples of the earth be blessed. It reminds us that God is no respecter of persons, but he shows mercy to whomever he desires to show mercy. The inclusion of these names of these women should give us great hope. The Bible says, "Whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life." And as Paul writes in Romans 3:22-23, "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All must be saved, and the Savior, Jesus Christ, will not discriminate. He will receive all people who will come to him in faith.
A List of Sinners
The inclusion of men should give us great hope too. Why? These men were sinners also. Look at Abraham. He lied again and again to save himself and his skin. He was not very chivalrous to his own wife. No, Abraham was timid and self-protective. Look at Isaac. He lied for his own benefit and put his wife's life in jeopardy. Look at Jacob. He was a cheat and a schemer. Look at Judah. He was an immoral person. Look at David. He was a lustful, scheming murderer and adulterer. God chose all of these and included them in this genealogy as well as in the book of life.
Oh, there is none righteous. All have sinned. Therefore, let us be encouraged by this genealogical list. It tells us that God shows mercy to Gentiles, to Jews, to sinners, and to outcasts in his Son Jesus Christ. His name is Jesus, "because he will save his people from their sins."
Everyone in Matthew's list is a sinner--everyone except one. At the grand climax of this genealogy, there is one who is the Son of God, the holy one, the sinless one. He is placed at that grand climax to give hope to Abraham, David, Judah, Jacob, Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Ruth. And, now, for you and me, also, there is a Savior. Do you now see the glory and the wonder of this genealogy? Of Abraham, David, and Mary, Jesus was born to save them and to save us.
A Break in the "Begats"
There is another abnormality we notice in this genealogy. In the King James Version of this text, we see the word "begat" repeated thirty-nine times--"Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob," and so on. The New International Version translates it as "Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob," and so forth. The Greek word is gennao . It appears forty times in Matthew 1:1-16, and thirty-nine times it is used in the active voice to express the begetting or fathering activity of the male parent--the impregnating of the female ovum. Every person in this genealogy was born due to the begetting activity of a male parent except Jesus. But in verse 16 we read, "And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."
In the King James we read, "Jacob begat Joseph. . ." and then what do we expect to read? "Joseph begat Jesus through Mary," in keeping with the pattern. But here the pattern breaks down. The text simply says, "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." In this verse Matthew suddenly breaks the begat pattern with reference to Joseph and tells us in no uncertain terms that Joseph did not father, or beget, Jesus. So we see that in his fortieth usage of the word gennao , Matthew uses it in the passive voice--ex hes egennethe Iesous ho legomenos Christos -- "of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." It is called divine passive.
Now, if you have only the English text, you may have some question about who the phrase "of whom" refers to. It is possible that some might infer from the English text that it could refer to Joseph as well as to Mary. But the Greek is more precise, and in the Greek text we see that "of whom"--the relative pronoun--is in the feminine form. That fixes the meaning and leaves no room for doubt. Jesus was born of Mary, not of Joseph. So notice this anomaly, this abnormality, this breaking down of the pattern. Joseph did not beget Jesus. Jesus was born of Mary by a supernatural action.
Who, then, acted to bring about this pregnancy? We find the answer beginning in verse 18. "His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found"--another passive--"to be with child"--and now we are told how--"through the Holy Spirit." We read this again in verse 20: "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"
Look at verse 23 where Matthew quotes Isaiah's prophecy: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (Is. 7:14). Again, the emphasis is not on Joseph as the father of Jesus. Finally, look at verse 25: "But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son." In all these ways what is Matthew telling us? He is saying that the begetting of Jesus Christ was supernatural and resulted in a virgin birth.
The Virgin Birth of Christ
In the account of the first Adam found in Genesis 5 we see another pattern which is broken suddenly. Just as we read "begat," "begat," "begat," in Matthew's gospel, in Genesis 5, beginning with verse 4, we find a refrain, which in Hebrew is the word viamuth, meaning "and he died." Again and again in Genesis 5 we read, "and he died. . .and he died. . . and he died." But what happens when we come to verse 24? We read, "Enoch walked with God" and there is a breakdown. What does it say? "then he was no more. . ." Why? "God took him away." This account is analogous to the genealogy we find in Matthew.
Why does God interrupt this pattern of begats? To emphasize the supernatural character of the virgin birth. Unlike everyone else, Jesus Christ was born because of the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit in the person of Mary. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost. In fact, in Luke 1:35 we are told he is the holy one--the one without sin, in other words. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says Jesus "had no sin. . ." In Romans 8:3 Paul writes, "God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful man. . ." Paul is telling us that Jesus was without sin and yet he had a body.
Why did Jesus have to be without sin? Hebrews 7:26-27 tells us, "Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day first for his own sins. . ." He had no sins. He was holy, blameless, and set apart from sinners.
We have to have one like that--God/man, without sin--at the climax of this genealogy so that Abraham and David and Judah and Tamar and you and I can look to him and be saved. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. As we read in John's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory. . ." (John 1:1, 14). The incarnation of Jesus Christ did not in any way diminish his deity, but the divine person did acquire a sinless, permanent human soul and body through Mary. God became flesh for our salvation.
What Do the Divisions Mean?
As we read Matthew's genealogy, we notice there are three divisions in this list, and in verse 17 he emphasizes how he divided the names into fourteen-generation sections (We recognize that in one section there are only thirteen names, but we will not deal with that in this study). Have you ever wondered about Matthew's organization of this list?
Some people say it is arranged that way so that people can memorize it. Others say that fourteen is the value of the name of David. In the Hebrew language, the letters were also symbols for numbers, and so every word had a numerical value. The Hebrew of Matthew's time did not involve vowels, which are a late invention, so the name of David consisted of three consonants--D, W, and D. The value of D is four, the value of W is six, and the value of D again is four, so the value of the name David is fourteen. Perhaps, then, Matthew was speaking about the central importance of David, and of the son of David. Matthew is telling us that Jesus Christ is David, the son of David, three times. He is the great David and David's son.
The first division Matthew makes is from Abraham to David the king. As I said, this section speaks about the rise of the glory of Israel because of the kingdom in the person of David. He was the warrior king who conquered all his enemies and established Israel. The second division is from David to the exile in Babylon. This section speaks of the decline of the glory of Israel. The third section is from the exile to Jesus. This section speaks of the eclipse of the glory of the kingdom of Israel. It reflects the passage of six centuries since the loss of the throne.
As Matthew wrote his gospel, Israel was in exile. Some Jews had returned to their land, and yet they lived under foreign domination. And so the question certainly was there: Where was the throne of David which was to endure forever in his offspring as God had promised long ago? Did God abandon his covenant to Abraham, Jacob, and David? Had God's promise become untrustworthy?
But at the climax of the genealogy there is the name of Jesus, who is called Christ. What does that say to us and what did it say to the people of Matthew's time? It indicates the rising glory of Israel after the eclipse of six hundred years. It assures us that God is faithful and his promise is sure. In Jesus Christ, the son of David, the great warrior king has come. He will defeat all his enemies. The utter defeat of sin, Satan and death is revealed in these final words of the genealogy, "and Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ," which means king.
Do you remember what Gabriel said to Mary? "The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33). After six hundred years, the sun has risen with healing in its wings in the person of Jesus, the son of Mary, the son of David, the son of Abraham!
The Seed of the Woman
What else do we learn from this genealogy? Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman. Long ago the Lord God promised in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel." This seed of the woman we recognize as the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David, and the holy seed of the woman Mary. This seed of the woman who crushes the head of Satan is now identified as Jesus. On the cross he said, "It is finished," and Paul says Jesus defeated all authorities by the cross (Col. 2:15). Jesus destroyed death in behalf of us by his death, and brought us life eternal. He told his disciples to cheer up and rejoice because he overcame the world--he who is the son of Abraham, the son of David, Jesus, who is called Christ.
The True King
Why else did Matthew place this boring genealogical list in the opening chapter of his gospel? He did so to prove beyond the shadow of doubt Jesus Christ is the son of David, the great King, whose kingdom shall be forever. The Jews implied that Jesus was somehow illegitimate, as we read in John 8:41. But here Matthew gives us a clear genealogical record that speaks about the pedigree of Jesus Christ.
In New Testament times genealogical records were kept, probably, by the Sanhedrin and it is said that these records were available throughout the first century. Even during the reign of Domitian, it seems, these genealogical records of Jewish people were available. It is interesting that no one dared to challenge the claim of Jesus that he was the Messiah. They could have easily done so by going to the public record place and finding evidence that Jesus was not the legal heir to the throne. But no one challenged him on that point. Why? The record was clear. Joseph was of the house of David (Luke 2:4), a son of David through Solomon. Joseph adopted Jesus born of Mary, and therefore Jesus was a legal heir to David's throne because Joseph, a son of David, was Jesus' legal father by adoption. Therefore there was no doubt that Jesus was the Son of David.
But Matthew was also proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. In Acts 2:36 Peter said that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ, the Messiah. In Romans 1:3 Paul said about Jesus, "who as to his human nature was a descendant of David. . ." and in 2 Timothy 2:8 Paul says, "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David," meaning he was king. And Jesus himself in Revelation 22:16 declared, "I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the bright Morning Star." He was speaking about the Isaianic prophecy of the Messiah--a shoot coming out of the stump of Jesse.
Jesus Christ: The Meaning of History
Do you recognize the glory of this genealogy? At the end of it is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the meaning for history and without him there is no meaning. But notice, this genealogy does not say one word about the Pharaohs of Egypt or kings of Nineveh, Babylon, or Medo-Persia. It does not say one thing about Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus. The meaning to history is found in Jesus Christ alone, and I must ask you if you recognize him. He is the Son of David, the seed of David, the great warrior and conqueror, who goes out conquering and to conquer all his enemies and who rules with an iron scepter. He is the Savior of the world and the King of the nations.
What meaning does Jesus have for us? This Jesus saves. Over and over again we read in the gospels how people cried out to him. Remember the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demonized? She was a Gentile, but when she came to Jesus Christ she cried, "Lord, son of David, have mercy upon me!" Both she and her daughter received mercy. In Matthew 20:30 we read of two blind men. When they saw Jesus coming, what did they cry out? "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" and they received mercy instantly.
Do You Believe His Claims?
I must ask you: Do you believe in this genealogy? Do you believe in the identity of Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew? Let me assure you, it matters if you believe or not. Why? Because there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we may be saved. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). One day, as Jacob prophesied, the obedience of the nations will be Christ's. And Jacob was not just speaking about one nation, but all the nations. The Samaritan woman said, "He is the Savior of the world."
What wonder, what grandeur, what majesty, what greatness abides in this name that is given to us at the end of the list! He will save some who are in the list, including his own mother, Mary. May we think about the claim that is made here. May we join the Canaanite woman and the blind men and cry out to him: "Lord, son of David, Jesus, have mercy upon me! Have mercy upon me!" By the mercies of God, I beseech you to put your trust in this alone Savior who is able to save to the uttermost. Amen.
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Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
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