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6. Protecting Our Families from Sin and Dysfunctionality (Genesis 29:31-30:24)

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When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to become pregnant while Rachel remained childless. So Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has looked with pity on my oppressed condition. Surely my husband will love me now.” She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Because the Lord heard that I was unloved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Now this time my husband will show me affection, because I have given birth to three sons for him.” That is why he was named Levi. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” That is why she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Jacob became furious with Rachel and exclaimed, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” She replied, “Here is my servant Bilhah! Have sexual relations with her so that she can bear children for me and I can have a family through her.” So Rachel gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob had marital relations with her. Bilhah became pregnant and gave Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me. He has responded to my prayer and given me a son.” That is why she named him Dan. Bilhah, Rachel’s servant, became pregnant again and gave Jacob another son. Then Rachel said, “I have fought a desperate struggle with my sister, but I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife. Soon Leah’s servant Zilpah gave Jacob a son. Leah said, “How fortunate!” So she named him Gad. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah gave Jacob another son. Leah said, “How happy I am, for women will call me happy!” So she named him Asher. At the time of the wheat harvest Reuben went out and found some mandrake plants in a field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But Leah replied, “Wasn’t it enough that you’ve taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes too?” “All right,” Rachel said, “he may sleep with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must sleep with me because I have paid for your services with my son’s mandrakes.” So he had marital relations with her that night. God paid attention to Leah; she became pregnant and gave Jacob a son for the fifth time. Then Leah said, “God has granted me a reward because I gave my servant to my husband as a wife.” So she named him Issachar. Leah became pregnant again and gave Jacob a son for the sixth time. Then Leah said, “God has given me a good gift. Now my husband will honor me because I have given him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. After that she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah. Then God took note of Rachel. He paid attention to her and enabled her to become pregnant. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Then she said, “God has taken away my shame.” She named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord give me yet another son.”

Genesis 29:31-30:24 (NET)

How can we protect our families from sin and dysfunctionality?

In this part of Jacob’s narrative, he had recently married two sisters. Jacob worked seven years to marry his uncle Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel; however, on the wedding night, Laban sent his oldest daughter, Leah, to Jacob’s tent without Jacob knowing. In the morning, Jacob realized that he had been deceived. After questioning Laban, Jacob struck a deal to also marry Rachel, but he would owe another seven years of work.

Therefore, after finishing Leah’s bridal festivities, Jacob was also given Rachel in exchange for the labor. Unfortunately, the deal led to Leah being unloved throughout the marriage. Leah longed for Jacob to love her and believed that she could win his heart by bearing children. God saw her sorrow and gave her many children. She initially bore four boys. With the names she gave them, she showed her desperation to be loved by her husband. Out of jealousy over Leah’s children, Rachel gave Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah, for him to marry and bear children through. She had two boys through Bilhah. In response, Leah did the same and had two boys through Zilpah. Then God blessed Leah with two more boys and one girl—seven overall. Eventually, God heard Rachel’s prayer and gave her a son, Joseph, who would eventually save his family from a future famine, when he became second-in-command over Egypt. In Genesis 35, one more son would be born to Rachel resulting in her death. His name was Benjamin. From these twelve boys came the twelve tribes of Israel.

This story is messy. It’s full of sin and discord. If these were people in covenant with God, one can only imagine how bad the pagan families were. Sadly, this is not uncommon amongst believing families today. Though they should be full of peace and love for one another, they are often dysfunctional.

As with all the narratives in Scripture, this story is descriptive—not prescriptive. It tells us what happened—not necessarily what should have happened. Often, we are called to learn from the negative examples of Scripture’s heroes. They serve as warnings that challenge us to not miss God’s best for our lives. In talking about how God disciplined Israel in the wilderness, Paul said: “These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did” (1 Cor 10:6). In the same way, by studying the story of Jacob’s dysfunctional family, we learn how to avoid sin and dysfunctionality in our families or future families.

Big Question: What principles can we learn about protecting our families from sin and dysfunctionality, as we consider the tragic story of Jacob’s family?

To Protect Our Families, We Must Not Imitate Our Parents’ Sins

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to become pregnant while Rachel remained childless. So Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has looked with pity on my oppressed condition. Surely my husband will love me now.” She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Because the Lord heard that I was unloved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Now this time my husband will show me affection, because I have given birth to three sons for him.” That is why he was named Levi. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” That is why she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Jacob became furious with Rachel and exclaimed, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” She replied, “Here is my servant Bilhah! Have sexual relations with her so that she can bear children for me and I can have a family through her.”

Genesis 29:31-30:3

Since Rachel was favored, Leah felt alone and unloved. Therefore, Leah was jealous of Rachel. When Leah started having children, Rachel became jealous in response. Similar to a national arms race, these sisters had a child-race—each child was a missile—birthed in hopes of having a competitive advantage in securing Jacob’s love. It was an unhealthy and toxic home.

Unsurprisingly, this is exactly the home environment that Jacob grew up in (Gen 25, 27). His father, Isaac, favored Esau. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, favored him. When it came to who would receive the birthright, the family was divided. Isaac and Esau were on one team, and Rebekah and Jacob were on the other. Rebekah and Jacob ultimately deceived Isaac into giving Jacob the birthright. Jacob’s parents showed favoritism which ultimately divided the kids. Similarly, Jacob showed favoritism which divided his wives. Eventually, he will show favoritism to his kids—favoring Rachel’s oldest son, Joseph, causing the other brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery (Gen 37).

Not only does Jacob practice the sins of his parents by showing favoritism—leading to a competitive home—but he also marries multiple wives—just like his grandfather, Abraham, and his brother, Esau. In both of those situations, the polygamous marriages only led to discord in the home. Sadly, Jacob repeated the sins of his family.

These sins would ultimately cause havoc in the children’s lives. As mentioned, the children would sell Joseph into slavery and lie to Jacob—saying that Joseph had died. A few of the children would also murder an entire village of people (Gen 34). Consider what F.B. Meyer said about this:

What wonder, then, that the children grew up wild and bad? Reuben, unstable as water, excitable and passionate: Simeon, quick to obey, but quick to desperate cruelty; and Levi, a willing accomplice in his crime. When children turn out badly, and the beautiful gate of childhood does not lead to the fair temple of mature life, it is generally the fault of the home-training; and it is more often the result of what they see than of what they are taught. Whatever Jacob may have been—and I fear that his example was none of the best,—yet the impressions received in the women’s tents, of high words and evil passion, would be enough to ruin any child. Beware how you act at home. Remember what keen little eyes are watching you; and with what absolute mimicry they will repeat what they see.1

Sadly, this is often true for us as well. None of us have perfect parents or families, and we tend to adopt the sins they practiced. In Exodus 20:5-6, God said:

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God does not punish us for our family’s sins; however, the sins of the parents tend to show up for three to four generations. This shows how difficult it is to break family sins. When there is drunkenness, divorce, neglect of the children or the spouse, abuse, materialism, witchcraft, etc., these tend to be passed from generation to generation. Positively, family faithfulness is even harder to break, as it lasts for thousands of generations.

Often when going through pre-marital counseling, couples are called to evaluate their parents’ marriages and parenting to identify both the good and the bad. This is done so they can decide what they will continue and what they will not. Many people never critically evaluate their family’s short-comings and therefore simply repeat them.

What family sins have been passed down to us? What sins are we practicing, which we must stop so they don’t hinder the blessings of future generations?

Application Question: What are your family’s short-comings/generational sins? How have you seen these show up in your life? How are you trying to break them? In what ways have you experienced family blessings, which have been passed down?

To Protect Our Families, We Must Foster Male Spiritual Leadership

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to become pregnant while Rachel remained childless… She replied, “Here is my servant Bilhah! Have sexual relations with her so that she can bear children for me and I can have a family through her.” So Rachel gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob had marital relations with her… But Leah replied, “Wasn’t it enough that you’ve taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes too?” “All right,” Rachel said, “he may sleep with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”

Genesis 29:31, 30:3-4, 15

Yes, the sins of the parents showed up in Jacob’s family; however, Jacob allowed them to. First, when Laban tricks Jacob, he doesn’t pray about whether he should accept this polygamous marriage. He just goes along with it in order to marry Rachel. Then after accepting Leah, he neglects her. Throughout the narrative, it is clear that the wives are running the home. When Rachel wants him to marry her servant, Jacob just obeys. When Leah wants the same, he just goes along with it. When Rachel finds out that Leah has mandrakes, which were considered an ancient aphrodisiac, she asks Leah for some. Leah replies, “Wasn’t it enough that you’ve taken away my husband?” It seems that, at this point, Rachel wouldn’t allow Jacob to sleep with Leah. After Leah gives Rachel mandrakes, she allows it. Throughout this narrative, Jacob is the passive male. He is not a spiritual leader at all, which only leads to more sin and dysfunction in the family.

Ephesians 5:22-27 says this about marriage and, specifically, the husband’s role:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body. But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.

The husband is to be the spiritual leader of the home. He is called to represent Christ and the wife is called to represent the church. As Christ, the husband is called to love his wife. He should lovingly serve her—not neglect her. He should sacrifice for her, even as Christ died for the church. This means he should sacrifice things like work, friendships, and entertainment in order to minister to his wife. Sadly, many husbands put work, friendships, and entertainment before their wives. Therefore, many wives feel unloved and neglected like Leah. The husband is to love his wife spiritually by washing her with the Word—getting his wife involved in a Bible preaching church, leading family devotions, correcting her when she goes against the Word. All of these things Jacob doesn’t do. He doesn’t correct Rachel and Leah when they want to bring more wives into the family. His passivity leads to further sin and dysfunction. This is exactly what Adam did at the fall. Scripture seems to indicate that Adam was right next to Eve, as she was tempted by Satan. He doesn’t step on Satan’s head like Christ eventually did. He doesn’t die for his wife, after she sinned, as Christ did for his bride, the church. Instead, Adam passively followed her—leading the world, which was under his leadership, into sin and dysfunction.

Like Adam, Jacob was the stereotypical passive male that wouldn’t lead his family—opening the door to drastic consequences.

Application Question: How should we apply the need to foster male, spiritual leadership in the family?

  1. For wives with passive husbands, they shouldnt criticize or belittle them. They should gently encourage and pray for them. They should help them lead, even by allowing them to make little decisions like what movie to watch or where to go to dinner. As husbands feel comfortable making little decisions, they will feel confident making bigger decisions. When they fail in certain areas, again, wives should avoid criticism, as it will only discourage and push them away. Wives should pray for them, encourage them, and wait on God to change their hearts. Remember, we don’t change people, God does.
  2. For husbands who have wives who wont allow them to lead, they should not passively relinquish their role. We must remember that Scripture doesn’t call for husbands to make their wives submit. Abusive male leadership is not biblical—it is a result of sin. Scripture commands husbands to love their wives. As husbands love them like Christ—personally, sacrificially, spiritually, and patiently—eventually, God may change their wives’ hearts. With that said, husbands should not passively accept every desire of their wives, like Jacob, especially when those desires are sinful. Passivity may bring short-term peace, but it brings long-term disaster. Again, we can’t change people, only God can. We can only love them, pray for them, and be patient with them.
  3. With children, parents must practice biblical gender roles in the family and teach them to eventually do the same. If parents don’t do this, the world will indoctrinate their children and lead them into unbiblical models, like Jacob’s, which ultimately lead to dysfunctional families.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced healthy male spiritual leadership in the home, church, or other places that positively affected you? What are characteristics of it? How have you seen the abuse of male leadership? What are negative effects of bad male leadership, as experienced from a father, husband, or even a pastor?

To Protect Our Families, We Must Pursue Fulfillment in God Alone

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to become pregnant while Rachel remained childless. So Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has looked with pity on my oppressed condition. Surely my husband will love me now.” She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Because the Lord heard that I was unloved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “Now this time my husband will show me affection, because I have given birth to three sons for him.” That is why he was named Levi. She became pregnant again and had another son. She said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” That is why she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Jacob became furious with Rachel and exclaimed, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” She replied, “Here is my servant Bilhah! Have sexual relations with her so that she can bear children for me and I can have a family through her.”

Genesis 29:31-30:3

Clearly, one of the sources of discord in Jacob’s home was the fact that each person was pursuing fulfillment in something other than God, which would never satisfy. Leah pursued her purpose in being loved. In each child’s name, one can discern her desperation to be loved by Jacob. Reuben meant “See, a son.” She said, “Surely my husband will love me now” (29:32). The second child she named Simeon, which means “hearing.” After naming him, she responded, “Because the Lord heard that I was unloved, he gave me this one too” (29:33). The third son she named Levi, which means “attached.” In response, she said, “Now this time my husband will show affection to me” (29:34). With the fourth son, Leah seems to briefly find her contentment in God, whether Jacob loves her or not. Judah means “praise.” She says, “This time I will praise the Lord” (29:35). Essentially, she says, “Instead of complaining about my difficulties, I will thank God for my blessings.”2 However, after Rachel starts having children, Leah becomes jealous again and pursues children as her purpose, independent from God, causing further dysfunction.

Similarly, Rachel, instead of seeking fulfillment and purpose in her relationship with God, sought it in becoming a mother. In those days, being a mother was seen as the primary purpose of a wife. Children provided labor, protection, and retirement. Therefore, to be barren was extremely shameful. When she couldn’t have children, she said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” (30:1). In response, Jacob became furious and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (30:2). Then, Rachel commanded Jacob to marry her servant, Bilhah, in order to have children through her. This would be an official adoption. In ancient Babylon this stipulation was often put into marriage contracts. If the wife could not bear children, she would provide her husband with a woman who could.3 Finally, with Jacob, his fulfillment was found in pleasing Rachel—not pleasing God.

With all three, their dysfunctionality was largely a result of God not being their source of fulfillment. When God is not the source of our fulfillment, something or somebody else will be—leading to frustration and discord. Only God can truly make us happy. If we think our spouses will make us happy, we’re setting unhealthy expectations, which will keep us constantly frustrated with them. These expectations will also keep our spouses constantly frustrated with us, because they’ll always feel like they’re failing us. Nobody can fill the place in our hearts that only God can fill. If we rely on friends, work, family, or even the church to make us happy or fulfilled, we will constantly be frustrated. As with Rachel, this frustration will often anger and push those we love away from us instead of drawing them near. Her expectations were misplaced and therefore unfulfilled. Even children couldn’t satisfy her, she would just want more. When she finally had a son, she named him Joseph, which means, “May the Lord give me yet another son”—nothing could satisfy her.

Many marriages, and relationships in general, are dysfunctional for this very reason. Children, the husband or wife, the boyfriend or girlfriend, the friend, co-worker, etc., are expected to bring satisfaction. When they don’t, it leads to frustration and anger. In response, the unfulfilled person takes out his or her anger on others or even God. In order to truly be satisfied in marriage, friendships, family, or work, we must find our satisfaction and purpose in God. He is the only one who can make us happy and satisfied—not people, things, or circumstances. Our joy and purpose must be in the Lord. Anything else will only lead to discouragement and frustration—resulting in discord.

Like the Psalmist, we must be able to say, “Even if my father and mother abandoned me, the Lord would take me in” (27:10). If God gives me a spouse or not, kids or not, a job or not, a degree or not, if all my friends, family, and co-workers forsake me, I will trust the Lord. He is all that matters. God must be our primary purpose and passion.

Application Question: How can we keep our gifts—like our spouses, friends, or work—in their proper place?

  1. We must prioritize God. When we constantly abide in God through his Word, prayer, fellowship, etc., it will keep our hearts from idolizing his gifts and living in a constant state of frustration and dissatisfaction. When we’re constantly angry and dissatisfied, it probably means our gifts are in the wrong place in our heart. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.’” We can only be free of over-loving our gifts if we put God first and find our contentment in him.
  2. We must hold Gods gifts with an open hand. If we don’t hold them with an open hand, we will tend to squeeze them too tightly and possibly break them. We must remember our spouses are not ours, they are God’s. Our children are not ours, they are, first of all, God’s. Our jobs, studies, hobbies, and relationships are all God’s gifts, which we are called to steward. We are called to cultivate them for God’s purpose. When we hold our gifts with an open hand, it will help keep us from hurting or destroying them and/or hurting or destroying ourselves.
  3. We must give God thanks for his gifts. This will prevent us from focusing on what we don’t have or on the imperfection of our gifts. Unthankfulness often leads to frustration, dissatisfaction, and eventually discord. God’s gifts are not meant to satisfy us, but they are meant to make us think of God and give him thanks. Even our gifts’ imperfections are meant to help us rely on God more and not seek our ultimate satisfaction in them.

Application Question: In what ways are you tempted to seek fulfillment outside of God? How have you seen or experienced dissatisfaction, anger, and discord, when seeking fulfillment outside of God? How can placing unhealthy expectations on people—such as expectations that belong only to God, like them being perfect (or nearly perfect)—hurt our relationships?

To Protect Our Families, We Must Remember God Ultimately Uses the Bad for Our Good

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to become pregnant while Rachel remained childless… Then God took note of Rachel. He paid attention to her and enabled her to become pregnant. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Then she said, “God has taken away my shame.” She named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord give me yet another son.”

Genesis 29:31, 30:22-24

As bad as this narrative is, God’s grace runs throughout like a silver lining. Because Leah was unloved, God blessed her. No doubt, she deceived Jacob and, in one sense, deserved to be unloved. For a while, Jacob probably had a difficult time even looking at her, after what she had done. However, God saw her humiliation and shame and blessed her. He gave her seven children; six of them were boys. Two of these boys, Levi and Judah, would become the priestly tribe and the kingly tribe of Israel. Moses and Aaron would come through Levi. David, Solomon, and Christ would come through Judah. Though deceptive, “unattractive,” and broken, God blessed the world through Leah.

With Rachel, she was probably prideful because of her beauty and the fact that her husband worked fourteen years for her. After God humbled Rachel by not allowing her to bear children, he eventually exalted her. He enabled her to give birth to Joseph, who would become a blessing to Egypt and one day save the family during a famine. Eventually, Rachel would also give birth to Benjamin.

This story is a mess, and maybe Moses was sharing this with Israel, while they were in the wilderness, to show them how undeserving they were of God’s grace. Their family background was dysfunctional; however, God took their humble beginnings and made them into a great nation—a nation that numbered over two million while enslaved in Egypt.

In the same way, if we are going to protect our family, our lives, and our hearts, we must remember God’s grace. God works all things to the good of those who love the Lord (Rom 8:28). He takes our messy family backgrounds, our failures, the failure of others, and uses them for the good. Certainly, there are consequences to sin. We see these throughout this narrative; however, none of our sins or consequences are too big for God. God took the worst thing in the world, the murder of his son, and made it the best thing in the world.

If we remember God’s grace, it will keep us from discouragement, hopelessness, and even fighting for our rights, as though God won’t defend us. God will defend us; he will work all things out for our good. That’s how amazing God is. That’s what we see in this family mess. We see God take a dysfunctional family and raise a nation from them, and a messiah, who will bless the world. This messiah, Jesus, eventually dies for the sins of the world, so that all who believe in him will ultimately be saved (John 3:16).

If we don’t remember God’s grace, especially in difficult times, we will become hopeless and discouraged, leading to more sin, worse consequences, and delayed blessings. But, if we remember God’s grace, we will see God’s blessing through eyes of faith—helping us respond better, both to God and others, while going through the varied circumstances of our lives, which are all meant for our good.

Are you seeing your trials, failures, and the failures of others with eyes of faith? Where sin abounds, surely, God’s grace will abound even more (cf. Rom 5:20). Thank you, Lord!

Application Question: Share a story about how God used your failures or the failures of others for your good. How does God’s sovereignty and grace encourage you, as you wrestle with sin and its effects?

Conclusion

How should we protect our families from sin and dysfunctionality?

  1. To Protect Our Families, We Must Not Imitate Our Parents’ Sins
  2. To Protect Our Families, We Must Foster Male Spiritual Leadership
  3. To Protect Our Families, We Must Pursue Fulfillment in God Alone
  4. To Protect Our Families, We Must Remember God Ultimately Uses the Bad for Our Good

Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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1 Meyer, F.B.. Jacob: Wrestling with God (Kindle Locations 762-768). Kindle Edition.

2 Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – Genesis II.

3 Getz, Gene. Men of Character: Jacob (Kindle Locations 1946-1947). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin), Relationships

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