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5. The Fool (Proverbs 26:1-11)


Certain people immediately come to our minds with the mention of the word fool. The first person I thought of was the actor, Jerry Lewis, followed by the Three Stooges, Larry, Curly, and Mo, then the Marx Brothers, Maxwell Smart, Tim Conway, and Don Knotts. It is interesting to me that none of these men fit the definition which Proverbs gives us of the fool. The “fools” I thought of are all rather harmless creature, basically well-intentioned and innocent. All of them evoke a certain sense of pity, mixed with amusement. Not so with the fool in the Book of Proverbs. This is but one of the reasons why the study of “the fool” is important.

But if we take the words of our Lord seriously, we must begin by asking whether our study is sanctioned by Him in the light of His teaching in Matthew 5:22:

“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the hell of fire.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, of which this verse is a part, our Lord was attempting to show that He did not come to reduce the requirements of the Law, but to reinforce them so that they would be interpreted even more strictly than was common in Israel. Not only was it sinful to commit murder (5:21), but it was wrong to be angry with a brother (5:2f) because anger may lead to murder, just as lust may lead to immorality (5:27-30).24 To call a brother a fool is to declare him to be worthless. If a man is but a fool, a blight on society, it would be better for all if he were dead. To conclude that one is worthless, then, is to come to the conclusion that the world would best be rid of him, which is but one short step from murder. Our Lord did not condemn the assessment of a person’s character, but the assassination of one’s character.

Just as our Lord did not forbid us from discerning the character of fools, the Book of Proverbs commends this assessment as a necessity for those who would be wise. Several reasons are given for the need to discern between those who are fools and those who are wise.

1. TO ASSOCIATE WITH FOOLS IS BOTH UNWISE AND UNPLEASANT. To some degree folly is contagious, and association with a fool tends to diminish our ability to discern truth from error and wisdom from folly.

Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge (14:7).

A fool is bound for his own destruction, and he will inevitably destroy everything in his path. Those who get in the way of the fool will get hurt.

Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, Rather than a fool in his folly (17:12).

The scoffer, the worst form of fool,25 is not only to be avoided, but is to be driven away.

Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, Even strife and dishonor will cease (22:10).

If anyone needs to be able to recognize a fool it is the young man or woman who is seeking a life’s mate. There is nothing more miserable than to be married to a fool. While Proverbs takes the positive approach here, exalting the godly wife (e.g. 31:10-31), the fool should be avoided as a partner in marriage. Abigail was married to a fool (I Sam. 25), but God was gracious enough to deliver her by his death; but this is not the norm. She may not have had much to say about her marriage to Nabal, but you do, and will have to live with your mistake in a marriage partner.

2. TO EMPLOY A FOOL IS A TRAGIC MISTAKE. Those who are responsible for hiring employees will want to take special note of the warnings of Proverbs to those who would hire a fool.

He cuts off his own feet, and drinks violence Who sends a message by the hand of a fool (26:6).

Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by (26:10).


Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him (22:15).

Proverbs offers hope to parents that foolishness can be cured if detected early and disciplined diligently.

4. FOOLS MUST BE DEALT WITH DIFFERENTLY THAN THOSE WHO ARE WISE. We cannot deal with all men in the same way. Our response to people must be based on the kind of character they have demonstrated.

He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (9:7-8).

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, Lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:4-5).

These considerations necessitate discerning the character of others and, in particular, that of a fool. Not only will we be able to see foolishness in others as a result of our study in Proverbs, we will also see a greater measure of it in ourselves. May God enable us to be honest with ourselves, to confess our foolishness, 2 and to forsake it as sinful and destructive, both to ourselves and to others.

Characteristics of A Fool

It is much easier to identify a fool in terms of what he is not than in terms of what he is. Notice the following characteristics of the fool as the Book of Proverbs describes him.

1. THE FOOL IS UNRIGHTEOUS. The fool hates what is holy, righteous, and good, and he loves evil.

Desire realized is sweet to the soul, But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil (13:19).

Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool; And so is wisdom to a man of understanding (10:23).

Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is good will (14:9).

2. THE FOOL IS UNWISE. Throughout Proverbs the fool is the counterpart of the wise. Wisdom is contrasted with folly. The fool does not possess wisdom, cannot obtain wisdom, and would not obtain it if he could.


The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding (10:21; cf. 1:20-33).


Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense [literally, “heart”]? (17:16).

A scoffer seeks wisdom, and finds none, But knowledge is easy to him who has understanding (14:6).

Wisdom is too high for a fool, He will not open his mouth in the gate (24:7).

The fool has no capacity for wisdom. In the words of 17:16, he has “no heart” for it. He may seem to seek wisdom, but is incapable of recognizing or retaining it.


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7; cf. 1:22).

The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly (15:14).

A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind (18:2).

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words (23:9).

The fool is not neutral toward wisdom--he hates it. Wisdom is to the fool what liver is to me: as freely and frequently as it may be offered to me, I will do everything I can to avoid it.

3. THE FOOL IS UNREALISTIC. The fool fails to see things as they are. Reality is distorted by the fool’s distorted outlook on life.

  • THE FOOL IS UNREALISTIC ABOUT HIMSELF in that he overestimates his knowledge and abilities:

“Proud,” “Haughty,” “Scoffer,” are his names, Who acts with insolent pride (21:24).

  • THE FOOL IS UNREALISTIC ABOUT LIFE. He thinks wisdom can be obtained easily, like purchasing a candy bar at a corner drug store.

Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense? (17:16).

  • THE FOOL IS UNCONCERNED WITH PRESENT REALITIES, and is a wishful thinker. His “ship” is always about to “come in.”

Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth (17:24).

4. THE FOOL IS UNDISCIPLINED. The fool looks upon self-control as a needless and useless denial of present pleasure. Because of this, every area of his life lacks discipline.


There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up (21:30).


A fool’s vexation is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor (12:16).

A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back (29:11).


A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly (12:23, cf. 10:14).

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly (15:2; cf. 18:2,7).

It is little wonder that the fool is referred to as a “babbling fool” (literally, the foolish of lips, 10:8,10).


  • HE IS UNRELIABLE IN HIS WORK: The fool is dishonest and evil and cannot be trusted in any area.

He cuts off his own feet, and drinks violence . He sends a message by the hand of a fool (26:6).

Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by (26:10).

  • HE IS UNRELIABLE IN HIS WORDS. The words of the fool are always to be questioned. He is a liar, a deceiver, and a slanderer.

He who conceals hatred has lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool (10:18).

The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, But the folly of fools is deceit (14:8).

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool (19:1).

Even what the fool believes to be true may be only his worthless opinion. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly (15:2).

The lips of the wise spread knowledge, But the hearts of fools are not so (15:7, cf. v. 14).

6. THE FOOL IS UNTEACHABLE. Try as you like, attempting to teach a fool is frustrating at best, and often painful. Whenever a fool is faced with wisdom and instruction, he will reject it.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7).

Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them (1:29-32).

Whenever the fool is disciplined, he resists it.

A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is prudent (15:5).

He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (9:7-8).

A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, He will not go to the wise (15:12).

A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool (17:10).

The folly of a fool is deep-seated. No matter how hard one strives to rid the fool of his folly, such efforts end in failure. A fool and his folly are seemingly inseparable.

Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his folly will not depart from him (27:22).

The fool cannot even learn from his own mistakes. Given the opportunity, he will repeat his folly:

Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly (26:11).

It is ironic, but true, that while the fool refuses to be taught, he is eager to teach others from his abundance of “wisdom.”

A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly (12:23).

A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind (18:2).

7. THE FOOL IS UNPLEASANT, UNLIKED, AND UNDESIRABLE. The fool is a menace, a detriment to society. He is a pain to his parents, for he hates them (15:20) and causes them grief (10:1; 17:21,25; 19:23). He is a disaster wherever he goes (10:14; 17:12).He hinders the understanding of others (14:7).His speech is slanderous (10:18). The fool is quarrelsome (20:3), and he stirs up dissension and anger.

A fool’s lips bring strife, And his mouth calls for blows (18:6).

Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, Even strife and dishonor will cease (22:10).

Scorners set a city aflame, But wise men turn away anger (29:8).

So far as society is concerned, the fool is an abomination.

The devising of folly is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men (24:9).

The Causes of Folly

I believe it is possible to reduce the causes of folly to two principle choices: the decision to distrust God and the decision to trust in one’s own heart.

First, the fool is one who has willfully determined not to follow the way of wisdom. Although wisdom has sought him out, he has refused and rejected her.

Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; And you neglected all my counsel, And did not want my reproof; . . . Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord (1:20-25,29).

The fool is not neutral toward wisdom, he hates it, and he loves the evil of his way (cf. 10:23;13:19; 29:27).

Second, one becomes a fool by trusting in himself. If one will not trust in God (1:7,29), he must trust in himself. Proverbs tells us that the fool is self-confident, trusting in his own wisdom, rather than in God and the counsel of those who are wise.

The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel (12:15).

To the fool, no one is more trustworthy, wise, or reliable than himself. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered (28:26).

Realizing the tendency of the fool to trust in himself enriches our understanding of one of the most familiar passages in the Book of Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (3:5-7).

The fool, trusting in his own understanding, rejects the fear of the Lord, and chooses to walk in the way of evil.

This decision to trust in self results in arrogance (21:24) and in a rejection of all authority, including that of one’s parents (15:5; 10:8). The fool is characterized by complacency (1:32).After all, who needs instruction, if he knows it all? Who needs correction who is never wrong? Who needs improvement, who has already arrived at wisdom and maturity? As a result, the fool has an autonomous spirit, and is reckless in his living (14:16).

How to Treat a Fool

Now that we have seen the characteristics of a fool and have learned the root causes of his folly, we must direct our attention to the treatment of a fool. Proverbs has a good deal to say on this subject, and nearly all of its instruction pertains to what we should not do. Our actions with regard to fools are often more negative than positive.

1. WE SHOULD AVOID THE FOOL IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. While wisdom is not contagious to a fool, folly is to the wise; therefore, the wise man should avoid the fool.

Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge (14:7).

In addition, the fool is dangerous and harmful, and we should avoid him like a bear robbed of her cubs (17:12).

2. THE FOOL SHOULD BE DRIVEN OUT. In those cases where we cannot leave the fool, the fool may need to be sent away.

Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, Even strife and dishonor will cease (22:10).

The New Testament teaches that Christians should not fellowship with professing Christians who are living in sin (I Cor. 5:9-13). The church is instructed to put out those who disregard biblical rebuke and correction (Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 5:5). The words of Paul to Titus seem closely related to the teaching of Proverbs that we should avoid the fool:

Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).

3. WE SHOULD NOT WASTE OUR INSTRUCTION ON FOOLS. In the New Testament Jesus taught that we should not “cast our pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6). In Proverbs, we are told not to attempt to teach fools:

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words (23:9).

4. WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW THE FOOL TO DRAG US DOWN TO HIS LEVEL. The fool is exasperating; he is looking for trouble, and he often tempts us to oblige him. Since the fool will spout off and speak his mind, we are tempted to lose our temper with him as well. Proverbs instructs us not to allow him to get the best of us, lest we be lowered to his level.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you be like him (26:4).

5. WE SHOULD NOT DIGNIFY A FOOL BY GIVING HIM UNDUE HONOR, SO THAT HE WILL-BE FLATTERED AND PUFFED UP EVEN FURTHER. The fool is pompous and proud, and he will take any positive strokes as a compliment. We should avoid giving him any honor.

Like snow in summer and rain in harvest, So honor is not fitting for a fool (26:1).

Answer a fool as his folly deserves, Lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:5).

6. WE SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO CORRECT THE FOOL, FOR IN SO DOING WE WILL ONLY PUNISH OURSELVES. The fool is never open to rebuke or correction. Any effort to correct a fool by mere verbal rebuke is futile.

He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, Reprove a wise man, and he will love you (9:7-8).

When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest (29:9).

7. WE SHOULD NOT MAKE LIFE EASY FOR THE FOOL. While verbal rebuke is not effective with fools, we should not seek to cushion the painful effects of their folly. The “way of the transgressor is hard” (13:15) and so the folly of a fool will bring about many difficulties. These painful consequences of sin may be instrumental in bringing the fool to the end of his folly, but regardless, the painful blows of sin should not be softened.

In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, But the lips of the wise will preserve them (14:3).

A fool’s lips bring strife, And his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul (18:6-7).

Luxury is not fitting for a fool; Much less for a slave to rule over princes (19:10).

The prodigal son did not come to his senses until he was allowed to suffer the consequences of his folly (Luke 15:11-14).We must not hinder fools from entering the pig pens of life, for it is there that they may come to recognize their folly.

8. FOOLS SHOULD BE SEVERELY DISCIPLINED. Fools do not learn from a lecture, but they cannot ignore physical pain. The only method of discipline for the fool is “the rod.”

A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools (26:3).

The fool may not learn even though he is severely disciplined, but others may learn a lesson by seeing the outcome of folly.

Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge (19:25; cf. 21:11).

The preceding principles governing our treatment may incline us to draw the wrong conclusion. Are fools utterly hopeless? Should we not make any effort to turn them from their folly? What are the implications of Proverbs for evangelism? Since, in one sense, all unbelievers are fools because they have rejected the fear of the Lord, should we do nothing to win them to Christ? The answer to these questions is also found in Proverbs.

The point which Proverbs is stressing is that the fool cannot be reasoned from his folly, cannot be shamed from it, and likely cannot even be beaten from it (cf. 27:22).This should not, however, lead us to the conclusion that the fool is utterly hopeless and helpless. Everyone who does not know Christ is hopelessly lost apart from divine intervention. The reason why Proverbs teaches us not to try to reform a fool is that he must be transformed. The fool’s problem is one of the heart (3:5; 4:23).

Proverbs reminds us that if we would help deliver a fool from his folly he must be saved from his sin. Rather than working on the symptoms of folly, we must deal with the heart of the matter. Notice that in Proverbs wisdom offers herself to all men; and specifically the fool is urged to turn from his folly.

“How long, 0 naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you (1:22-24).

“Come, eat of my food, And drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding” (9:5-6).

The solution for the fool is to turn from his folly, from trusting in himself, to fearing God. If we would help the fool it is by proclaiming to him the way of salvation, not trying to inform him (by teaching) or reform him (by rebuke and correction). It is only the gospel which transforms men through the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.


There is much for the Christian to learn from the teaching of Proverbs on the fool. Let me suggest several topics on which you might profitably meditate.

First, while we would admit that foolishness (folly) is sin, let us also be aware of the fact that sin is foolishness. Whenever we choose to sin, we are choosing to play the part of the fool. When we sin, we conclude that we are wiser than God, and that we are better able to judge matters than He. Sin is the decision to reject the wisdom of God and venture out on our own. In the Garden of Eden, Satan deceived Eve into believing that God’s prohibition was unwise and unkind, and that disobedience would make her wise, even God-like (Gen. 3:5-6). Such is always the case with sin--we cannot choose to sin without rejecting the wisdom of God. Sin is folly.

Second, let us think of Satan as the prince of fools. As I think through the characteristics of a fool, I am reminded that no one is better described than Satan himself. He chose to rebel against God and to assert his will over God’s (Isa. 14:1215).He delights in sin, and he actively seeks to lead others in his evil way. He sets himself about the task of hindering others and bringing about their destruction (I Pet. 5:8).He is a deceiver (I Tim. 2:14; Rev. 20:3), a sinner (I John 3:8), a liar and a murderer (John 8:44).He accuses the saints before God and slanders them (Rev. 12:10).He is arrogant and proud (Ezek. 28:17; I Tim. 3:6). He is a troublemaker and a nuisance. Because of this, he should be avoided, but we should not attempt to rebuke him (Jude 8-9). Satan is the prince of fools, the essence of folly.

Third, everyone must decide to be a fool in the eyes of some. The one who is wise in his own eyes is a fool to God. The one who trusts in God and walks in the way of wisdom is a fool to Satan (cf. Job 1) and to those who are without Christ. The way of the cross is a foolish way to the unsaved (I Cor. 1:18-25).To become truly wise we must forsake our own human, finite, wisdom (Prov. 3:5-6) and trust in the wisdom of God. We must become foolish to become wise:

Let no one deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS OF THE WISE, THAT THEY ARE USELESS” (I Cor. 3:18-20).

Would you be wise in the eyes of God? Then you must acknowledge your sin, and trust in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins. He died in your place. He bore the penalty of your sins. By trusting in Christ’s death on your behalf, you not only enter the way of wisdom, you enter the way of everlasting life.

Fourth, it is possible for a Christian to play the fool. Unfortunately we may stray from the path of wisdom into the path of folly and sin. David did when he took another man’s life, and his wife (II Sam. 11). Solomon did when he married foreign wives (I Kings 11:1-4).

As I turned once again to the passages of the New Testament which speak of putting off our old man (e.g. Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:9-17) I noticed that the very things which we are told to put off are the characteristics and actions of the fool. Our old nature is predisposed toward practicing folly. Those of us who are Christians need to look for the fool in us, not just in others. The enemy, so to speak, is us. The foolishness of our old nature must be diligently disciplined. We must not pamper the flesh, but crucify it. Ultimately the only solution for foolishness is the cross.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up, his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Let us seek, by the grace of God, to put to death the works of the flesh, to be wise, and to forsake folly. And let us seek the salvation of those who are fools, by proclaiming the foolishness of the cross.

24 Not only does actual murder place men under the punishment of death. The heart that has become inflamed with the destructive mental attitude, from which springs the damning word, merits the same judgment. With tremendous sharpness Jesus’ word makes it clear that God’s judgment on sin is radical and far-reaching. It does not merely cover the accomplished deed; it exposes the motive behind it . . . . Accordingly in this three-stage development, Jesus sets the sins of thought and tongue (which include the damning of a man) on the same level as physical murder which can be atoned for only by death.” T. Sorg, “Rhaka,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, I), p. 418. I find it noteworthy to observe that this article on the Greek word Rhaka is included under the title, “Curse, Insult, Fool.” In effect, to call on a fool is to curse him, expressing the wish for his destruction or damnation. No wonder our Lord taught that calling one a fool was as serious as murder. It should also be observed that our Lord Himself used the Greek word Moros, rendered “fool” in Matthew 22:5, in reference to the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the five foolish virgins (Matt. 23:17; 25:2,3,8).

25 The NASB renders three Hebrew words “fool:” Kesil (1:22,32;3:35;8:5; 10:1,18,23; 12:23; 13:10,16,19,20; 14:7,8,16,24,33; 15:2,7,14,20; 17:10,12,16,21,24, 25; 18:2,6,7; 19:1,10,13,29; 21:20; 23:9; 26:1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12; 28:26; 29:11, 20), Ewil (1:7; 7:22; 10:8,10,41,21; 11:29; 12:15,16; 14:3,9; 15:5; 16:22; 17:28; 18:13; 20:3; 24:7,9; 27:3,22; 29:9), and Nabal (17:7,21; 30:22). In addition there is the “simple,” whom we have already studied, and the “scoffer” (Hebrew: Luts, 1:22; 3:34; 9:7,8; 13:1; 14:6; 15:12; 19:25,29; 21:11,24; 22:10; 24:9; 29:8). In this message I have decided to focus on the two primary categories of fool (Kesil, Ewil), as well as the scoffer (Luts). The Nabal occurs seldom and will not be included here. Instead of dwelling on the distinctions between these three categories I will focus on their common characteristics.

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