The History and Prophecy of Miracles
(and their Failure)
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., May 1983
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, February 2005
Many people in Christian denominations today feel that miracles should occur frequently in the lives of Christians. The Bible has a very different story to tell in regard to the performance of miracles. The information in this article may be eye opening to some.
The majority of people in every period of history have been impressed with events which could be reckoned as miraculous. The more spectacular those supernatural occurrences are, the more humans express awe and reverence for them. Indeed, most people are of the firm belief that the principal way God reveals Himself to humanity (in a personal and intimate way) is through the performance of signs and wonders. And true enough, God has adopted this method for securing the attention of people to Himself and His ways (Exodus 4:5–9, 7:5, 16:12, etc.). But the working of miracles alone is not always a sign that God is being manifested. Moses warned the Israelites that evil forces can also produce outstanding miracles which God at times permits in order to prove (or test) people’s loyalty to Him (Deuteronomy 13:1–3).
What is not normally realized, however, is that the use of miracles (both those performed by God or through evil forces) has seldom been the means by which the principles of righteousness and faith have been produced in people. In fact, when one surveys the history of the biblical times when God showered an abundance of signs and wonders in the midst of His people, the results often led to disastrous departures from standards of righteousness and faith as sanctioned by God.
Most people today are of the opinion that just the opposite should have occurred. How many times have we heard people say: “Oh, if only I had lived in the time of Moses, or Elijah, or Christ Himself, and to have witnessed all those miracles! They would have made me far closer to God!” Strange as it may seem, the signs and wonders did not make the people who lived during those times any more holy. Actually, the biblical record shows that the outcome was the very antithesis to godly obedience and virtue.
Even more striking are biblical prophecies describing a time yet future to us (prior to Christ’s second advent), when the greatest departure from true righteousness in the history of the world will take place. It will be spawned by grand and awesome miracles among the peoples of the world (Revelation chapter 13).
In short, one should be very careful in accepting miracles as a proof of Jesus Christ or God the Father. Only if the signs and wonders are manifested within the righteous standards shown in the Holy Bible can any credence be afforded them. Simply because a miracle is performed in the name of God or Christ is no guarantee that the source is the true God. Christ Himself said:
“Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works [miraculous deeds]? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, you that work iniquity [lawlessness].”
This is instructive and powerful teaching by our Lord. Even if people execute miracles in the name of Jesus Christ and yet they fail to abide by the standards of teaching which the final revelation of Christian doctrine demands, then no heed should be given either to the wonders themselves or to the people accomplishing them. “To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
The occurrence of miracles can be a very dangerous thing, because it is so easy to deceive people into error with such displays. Actually, in a proper Christian environment, no encouragement should be given for the performance of supernatural signs and wonders. Christ said:
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign [miracle]; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
The sign of Jonah was Christ’s entombment for three days and nights and His coming forth from the dead in a resurrected state. That is the only miracle any Christian should need — and it is one in which all people of faith can rely upon as emanating directly from the true God in heaven.
Really, outward physical signs are designed to appeal to and appease carnal minded people who have little or no appreciation for mature spiritual teachings or experiences. In almost all cases, God gave them to people who were just beginning to understand the first principles of the nature and teachings of God. This is true whether one considers the time when the nation of Israel had its Old Covenant beginning during the exodus from Egypt, or the commencement of the New Covenant ekklesia when Christ and the apostles began to teach. Those were times of great miracles which God provided in order to introduce brand new teachings or social systems into the world.
It is evident that those outpourings of signs and wonders were not intended by God to be an end in themselves (or to be of continual use among God’s people). If they were, then God would have persistently applied them throughout all periods of Old Testament history. But He did not! There were scores of years when some of the mightiest prophets of God taught the people in which not one miracle is recorded to have happened. As a matter of fact, when God did perform an abundance of miracles they did little good in producing righteousness and faith in the people. In truth, the opposite effect was the outcome.
There were three main periods of time in history when miracles were performed on a grand scale (and by God Himself), and each of the periods produced the greatest amount of apostasy in Israel. There will also be a time in the future (before Christ’s advent) that will bring about an even greater apostasy. These biblical periods are recorded so we can be fully aware that physical miracles in themselves have never cultivated the development of spiritual attributes which God wants to predominate in His people. Anyone who studies the biblical revelation should be aware of these failures, but many people today of charismatic bent forget the examples and continue to emphasize miracles.
The people of Israel commenced their national existence at their Exodus from Egypt. As far as the performance of miracles is concerned, no time in history (past or present) ever equaled that of the Exodus. Where is there a parallel to the ten major plagues that affected and afflicted the totality of the land of Egypt, except where the Israelites were? Indeed, even Pharaoh became convinced that the true God was behind the miraculous events. Had not God intervened to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Romans 9:17–18), the physical pain and punishment upon Egypt would easily have prevailed on the Egyptians to let Moses and Israel do as they pleased. God, however, prevented Pharaoh from succumbing to reason because He wanted to prove to all the nations of the world at the time that He was indeed behind the creation of Israel as His Old Covenant people (Exodus 15:14–19).
And though God’s power was fully manifested among the nations of the world, the effect on the people of Israel themselves was not at all productive to righteousness. Note what happened. They moved on to Mount Sinai with miracle after miracle provided for them on their journey. They had miraculous food (manna) supplied to them and their clothing did not deteriorate (Deuteronomy 29:5). In addition to the daily miracles that were happening on all sides, they were even privileged to hear the voice of God Himself at Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:4).
No large group of people throughout history has ever been so abundantly blessed with the reality of God in their presence, yet what did those Israelites do in the midst of all the outstanding physical miracles which surrounded their existence? Within the first year of the Exodus, they rebelled against God on ten different occasions (Numbers 14:22). They expressed such insubordination to God in that first year that God finally reached the conclusion He should destroy them and raise up a nation through Moses alone (Exodus 32:10).
God had a right to be angry with them. That time in history produced more physical demonstrations of God’s making than any other, but the signs and wonders did little good to develop any lasting obedience and faith in the people. In reality, the more miraculous signs and wonders that God showed them, the more rebellious they became. God became so angry with Israel’s lack of trust in Him (after giving them miracle after miracle — on a daily basis) that had it not been for the intercession of Moses on their behalf, He would have obliterated the whole nation from the face of the earth (Exodus 32:10).
If there was one thing the Exodus period proved, it showed that signs and wonders were not enough to bring righteousness and faith to a people. So upset was God with those Israelites that He ordered every Israelite (except Joshua and Caleb) to die in the wilderness. And remarkably, this included even Moses himself. In spite of all the miraculous events that occurred to Moses throughout his life, he stood up in rebellion to God at the waters of Meribah (Deuteronomy 32:48–52). If God’s greatest leader of men (in the history of the world) became disobedient, where would we of modern times stand if God showed us the SAME MIRACLES associated with the Exodus?
There is no greater example of the failure of signs and wonders to beget righteousness and faith in people than the Exodus period. And yet, what do hosts of people in the twentieth century desire from God? They want signs and miracles in their lives. The charismatic movement now under way among Christians is emphasizing the very things that failed to kindle true righteousness among people in the past.
However, the problems that afflicted the Israelites of the Exodus period did not stop there. In the time of the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, God gave Israel even greater signs and wonders. Not only did they walk over the Jordan River dry shod in the time of flood, but God even stopped the motions of the sun and moon for almost a whole day in order for Israel to win a battle over the Canaanites. One would think that this would make all Israelites (for generations to come) faithful and obedient to God. But did this occur? Absolutely not! The next generation of Israelites after the deaths of Joshua and the elders degenerated into such religious anarchy and barbarism that there is hardly a parallel to be found in the history of any nation, ancient or modern (Judges 2:7–10). So bad did the spiritual condition of the Israelites become that it took almost 400 years for a semblance of righteousness and faith to re-emerge at the time of King David.
The eighty-year period for the reigns of David and Solomon saw Israel exalted to top position among the nations of the world. In King David, God had a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and with him Israel came into a renewed state of obedience and reverence for God. The outcome was a type of “millennial” existence for the whole nation in the time of Solomon. There was glory in all the world. Accomplishments in architecture, economics, literature, and the fine arts were produced at this time so that even the world today admires the archaeological remains of the period.
In Palestine itself this was a period when such a measure of spirituality was restored that most of the Psalms that have inspired people over the centuries were composed. Also the great Temple of God was built in Jerusalem. But strange as it may seem, there was only one miracle of the Exodus-type that is recorded to have occurred at that time. That was the time that supernatural fire came down on the altar at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1). Such a miracle as this was typical of the way God commences any new phase of His teaching to the world. He introduced the sanctity of His temple by a solitary miracle of fire. 1
Once again we should gain some teaching from this. The absence of signs and miracles in that glorious period of Israel’s existence under the reigns of David and Solomon is as conspicuous as it is instructive. The truth is, when people come to a full knowledge of what true spirituality really is, God not only diminishes the incidence of miraculous events, but He may stop them altogether. The fact is, the examples and teaching of the scripture indicate that the more that people adapt a spiritual approach to matters concerning God and His ways, the fewer (or no) physical demonstrations of God’s powers are required by God to present His truths to people. What a contrast and difference to what many people today think God ought to be doing. The biblical examples of what produces righteousness and faith in people (as God has recorded in His holy word) are just the opposite from what people imagine should be happening.
In truth, the fewer miracles that God has to perform in a person’s life to get a person to love and to have faith in Him, the more one can be assured that God is pleased with the person (Matthew 2:39). This truth can be demonstrated so easily if one is willing to believe the teaching of the biblical revelation. Look, of all people mentioned in the Old or New Testaments there was no one greater than John the Baptist who was ordained to introduce God’s son into this world, yet throughout all the ministry of John not one miracle was performed by him (John 10:41). Does this show that God was not honoring John by backing up his teaching with outstanding signs and wonders? In no way!
Christ Himself said that no man in history (including Moses himself) was greater in power and esteem in God’s eyes than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11), but not a single miracle was performed by John. Many Christian ministers today (especially those who emphasize charismatic gifts) would think this lack of miracles in John’s ministry was proof that he did not have the power of God behind him. And, of course, they would be wrong. Even false prophets can produce miracles (Deuteronomy 13:1–3).
Really, when one surveys the full teaching of God regarding the use of signs and wonders, it will be seen that such outward demonstrations by God are only required by the spiritually weak (and the rebellious). Such things excite the libido of “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39). But the prominent absence of many miracles and signs of the Exodus-type in the period of Israel’s greatest time of glory (the reigns of David and Solomon) or during the ministry of John the Baptist is an instructive piece of biblical teaching that ought to be fully recognized by all Christians today. The truth is, when God is driven to use miracles and outstanding signs among the people it is always among those who are infants in true spirituality (or among carnal minded people who are just beginning to understand spiritual truths). But when people start to become of mature spiritual age, God does not need to resort to demonstrations of His supernatural powers of authority to convince people to love and respect Him.
Note that at the end of the apostle Paul’s ministry, physical miracles were beginning to wane (2 Timothy 4:20). Only when people were in a spiritually immature state were miracles felt to be necessary.
Within about sixty-five years after Solomon’s death the nation of Israel had reverted back to such a state of apostasy from God that the prophet Elijah was raised up to witness against them. He was succeeded by Elisha who asked for a double portion of Elijah’s miraculous powers (2 Kings 2:9). Both men prophesied in one of Israel’s greatest times of disloyalty to God. And what did God once again think was necessary to perform? He did the only thing that people who demand the outward, physical demonstrations of God’s power can accept. He produced a great number of miraculous signs and wonders (as many Christians wish to see today); but the miracles did no good in reforming the nation of Israel. Notice the eight major miracles that Elijah performed.
|1. The shutting of heaven (1 Kings 17:1).||5. Rain (1 Kings 18:45).|
|2. Oil multiplied (1 Kings 17:14).||6. Fire on 50 (2 Kings 1:10).|
|3. Widow’s son raised (1 Kings 17:22–23).||7. Fire on 50 (2 Kings 1:12).|
|4. Fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38).||8. Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8).|
Yet while all these miracles were being accomplished, Elijah himself was convinced he was the only one left in Israel who still worshipped God correctly (1 Kings 19:14). Elijah thought that the performing of those miracles were as penetrating to the spiritual development of the people as water on a duck’s back. This was true, but God came to him with information that there were yet 7000 people (out of the whole nation) who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). The nation had gone over to an almost outright rebellion to God.
This was not the end of it. Elisha succeeded Elijah to the prophetic office. He asked for a double portion of Elijah’s powers, and he got it (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah performed eight miracles, but Elisha sixteen:
|1. Jordan divided (2 Kings 2:14).||9. Bread multiplied (4:43).|
|2. Waters healed (2:21).||10. Naaman healed (5:10).|
|3. Bears from the wood (2:24).||11. Gehazi smitten (5:27).|
|4. Water for kings (3:20).||12. Iron to swim (6:6).|
|5. Oil for widow (4:1–6).||13. Sight to blind (6:17).|
|6. Gift for son (4:16–17).||14. Smiting with blindness (6:18).|
|7. Raising from the dead (4:35).||15. Restoring sight (6:20).|
|8. Healing of pottage (4:41).||16. One after death (13:21).|
Yet note this! The thirteen kings that ruled in Israel from the time of Elijah and Elisha until the captivity of the nation by the Assyrians (almost 200 years later) were those who did “evil in the sight of the Lord.” The special miraculous period of Elijah and Elisha did nothing to correct the nation from the errors of their ways. Indeed, they got worse, and were led into captivity.
Even the miracles associated with Isaiah and King Hezekiah did little to reform the nation of Judah in any lasting way. Within 140 years after the captivity of northern Israel by the Assyrians, the kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the Babylonians. God performed two major miracles during Judah’s punishment in Babylon (the fiery furnace and the lion’s den), but these were done in a time of punishment for their rebellion. When God’s favor came back to the nation in its restoration under the prophets Zechariah and Haggai and the righteous administrations of Ezra and Nehemiah, not one miracle was recorded to have occurred! It was as though the period of God’s pleasure during the time of David was repeated.
If there was ever a time in history when miracles were given in great profusion it was in the time of Christ. But even those signs and wonders did nothing to reform the nation. In fact, the outcome was that of placing their Lord and Master on a cross of crucifixion. Not only did the nation reject Christ, but the apostles themselves fled in fear while Christ endured the agony of the cross (Luke 23:49). All the signs and wonders done by Christ did little to inspire a spiritual persistence even in the apostles. Judas Iscariot saw most miracles that Christ ever did, but betrayed Him to crucifixion. Peter himself even cursed that he never knew Christ.
John the apostle saw Christ perform His miracles too, and what was he inspired to write about their outcome? “But though he [Christ] had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). 2 After Christ’s resurrection, the apostles also performed many signs and wonders, but typical of the attitude of the majority of the people was “the high priest rising up and all the people that were with him ... and they were filled with indignation” (Acts 5:15–17).
And look what happened inside the Christian ekklesia itself. No area was more concerned about miracles than that of Corinth in Greece. They coveted the speaking in tongues, prophecies, revelations, healings, and physical manifestations which people could wonder at (1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14). But the very people who desired these outward displays of the spirit were the ones most prone to party spirit (1 Corinthians 1:11–13) to the extent that Paul had to say:
“You are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?”
1 Corinthians 3:3 3
In spite of all these detractions from proper conduct, the Corinthians were the ones most interested in speaking in tongues, miracles, prophecies, etc. What we find is that all the outward manifestations of signs and wonders did not help them to straighten up their lifestyles at all. In fact, it could be that the miraculous displays they coveted, and were occurring in their midst, were their excuse to perpetuate their sins. As it sometimes happens today, it is virtually impossible for people who constantly experience tongues, healings, miracles, prophecies, etc., to admit they are wrong in their ways — no matter what they do. This is because of the false assumption that God would not allow those miraculous powers to exist with them if they were not pleasing Him.
What folly! Jannes and Jambres in Egypt were able to perform great signs, not because they were righteous, but by being evil. And Christ Himself said that people would come in His name, performing many outstanding miracles, but they would in no way be in tune with Christ or showing an obedience to His will (Matthew 7:21–23).
Thankfully, the Corinthians heeded the warnings of Paul to straighten up their ways and minimize their emphasis on the physical exhibitions that they coveted so much. We can recognize this as the case because in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, his only major rebuke was their continued reliance on teachings coming from false apostles (2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12). They apparently learned their lesson concerning their erroneous stress on “tongues, healings, miracles, prophecies,” etc., because Paul did not mention those matters further.
There is a significant point that is evident when one surveys the biblical accounts of the historical periods of the Exodus, of Elijah/Elisha, and of Christ’s ministry. While all of the miracles that occurred in those times came directly from God Himself, they still did not reform the people into a spiritual attitude that persisted among themselves or their descendants. This is no doubt the reason that Christ made it one of His strongest of points that the only sign He would give the world that He was the Messiah, was that of Jonah — of Himself being resurrected from the dead (Matthew 12:39–40).
We should thank God for that one miracle. In fact, that is the only miracle that is needed to sustain the reliability of all the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. And it is the only one that any of us can depend upon as the foundation proof of our faith. All other signs and wonders (even the greatest — involving the most illustrious events on earth or in heaven) fall into insignificance relative to the truth of the miracle of Christ being resurrected from the dead. The Christian should require no other miracle to prove God or the truth of the Christian revelation.
Whereas the first three periods we mentioned above involved miracles given by God Himself, there is a time coming (which may not be long in occurring) in which miracles will once again become important — and this time the majority of the people in the world will accept them. As a result, the world will become converted to do the will of a man who will claim to be Christ returned to this earth. He will be the false Christ — a man who has 666 as his number (Revelation 13:18). The world will accept (for three and a half years) the dictates of this man.
What is the main reason that the world will affirm this man and his false claims? It will be an abundance of miracles that a false prophet will perform in his presence. The world will admire these miracles as certain proof that the man is indeed the Christ (Revelation 13:11–18). But he will be the Beast — the Antichrist!
And note this, if those in Israel were not able to learn true spirituality when God gave them His real miracles (with much sufficiency) in the three periods discussed above, what will happen when Satan the Devil (with God’s permission) turns out some of the most magnificent miracles imaginable just prior to the second coming of Christ? Let me tell you, it will result in the conversion of the world to the false Christ sitting in the temple at Jerusalem (2 Thessalonians 2:1–11; Revelation chapter 13).
But we can thank God that the subterfuge will last only three and a half years. When this time of apostasy is over, and the real Christ is on earth, mankind will have learned their lesson that the true spiritual teachings of God are not the outward signs which excite mankind so much today. God wants to produce something in us far more precious and lasting than our ability to have an appreciation of His miraculous powers.
It is love for one another that we need to produce in our lives, not supernatural signs. After all, God can cause a million openings of the Red Sea, stop the sun and moon in their orbits a billion times, but the most difficult thing for Him to do is to get us, and all intelligent beings in the universe, to love one another! Thankfully, He will even accomplish that. But it will not come through miracles — even raising the dead. Christ said: “Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
As we have seen in this survey of biblical history and prophecy, miracles of themselves are only a transient phase in God’s plan for our salvation. They have done little to establish righteousness and faith in people of the past, and they will only bring about utter apostasy in the time just prior to Christ’s return to earth. Recall that in the ministry of John the Baptist (and no prophet was greater) no miracles occurred — yet the people began to repent.
It is instructive to realize that in the ministries of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zephaniah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah, or John the Baptist, not one miracle is recorded to have occurred. And the only righteous miracles prophesied for the future are those of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1–14) and the ones associated with the Day of God’s Wrath (Revelation chapters 8 to 16). Yet in both seasons of these godly miracles the world fails to gain a lesson from them. After all, they will kill the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:7), and also refuse to repent of their evil ways during the Day of God’s Wrath (Revelation 9:20). The world will be impressed, however, with the miracles accomplished by the false prophet. Those evil miracles will look so good on the surface (as though they come from God Himself) that the whole world will go to the worship of the Beast (666) because of them (Revelation chapter 13). Nothing deceives so easily as miracles.
The biblical evidence shows that miracles of themselves (even those performed by God) have had little or no effect in creating repentance, righteousness, faith, and love in people. Contrary to what most people feel, miracles induce the opposite effects. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matthew 12:39).
Those today who wish to adopt the early “Corinthian church attitude” of emphasizing signs, wonders, tongues, prophecies, healings, etc., should look at their desires and re-evaluate them in the light of biblical history and prophecy. The Corinthians in Paul’s time, thankfully, learned their lesson and abandoned their stress by the time Second Corinthians was written. 4
Will people heed Paul’s admonition and reform their ways today? Probably not (1 Timothy 4:1). People love signs and wonders too much, and they want God to prove Himself in this fashion to them. Indeed, the miracles themselves are not wrong, but when many miracles seemingly begin to occur in a person’s life, an equal amount of arrogance and smugness normally attach themselves to the recipients.
Even the apostle Paul had difficulty keeping humble because of the abundance of signs and revelations given to him. He had to be given a thorn in the flesh to keep him in tune with the true spiritual principles of humility and faith (2 Corinthians 12:1–10). Most of us simply do not know how to handle in a proper spiritual way many miracles occurring in our lives. That is no doubt one of the reasons why they have proved so much a failure in producing righteousness and faith among the peoples of the past, and why they will do so much damage in the time of the Antichrist. Clearly, there are things far more important than miracles that we ought to be cultivating.
“Love never fails. But whether there be prophecies; they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away”
1 Corinthians 13:8
Only when unfeigned love, kindness, consideration, fairness, mercy, and fidelity exist in our hearts will mankind realize that we do not need outward, physical miracles to express righteousness and joy any longer. One day we will all learn the lesson that God has been trying to tell humanity since the time of Adam and Eve: God loves us, and wants us to love Him and to love one another — not that He wants to awe and startle us by a demonstration of His powers over nature. Of course God can do all things, but the most important miracle in all creation is that He sent His Son into the world to redeem us to Himself because He loves us – and this will allow us to live with Him in joy and happiness controlling the entirety of this vast universe as His sons and daughters.
If we get our minds off of outward, physical miracles, tongues, prophecies, healings, and other signs and wonders, we will one day learn to appreciate what our true salvation in Christ is all about. May God speed the day when we all learn the spirituality that the biblical revelation gives to us. That spirituality is to learn to love one another and our Creator with all our heart.
Ernest L Martin, May 1983
Edited by David Sielaff, February 2005
1 There were also the two miraculous judgments during the period: the plague because of David's sin in numbering the people for war (1 Chronicles 21:14-26), and Uzzah's lack of faith in steadying the ark (2 Samuel 6:1-8). However, these judgements were nothing like the the Exodus-type of miracles done under Moses and Joshua! ELM
3 The Corinthians (through loving signs and wonders):
gloried in the abilities and accomplishments of men (1 Corinthians
they judged men by the standards of other men (1 Corinthians
they allowed such fornication in their congregations that even the
heathen were aghast (1 Corinthians 5:1-13);
they accused one another in the civil courts (1 Corinthians
others refused to support some of the elders with money (1 Corinthians 10:14-21);
they misused the Lord's Supper by introducing pagan ceremonies (1
some women took on the role of men by prophesying in the manner
reserved only for males (1 Corinthians 11:3-10); and
they ate huge feasts and even got drunk at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:19-34). ELM
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