Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.2 Samuel 3:1. There was long war — For five years longer: for it is probable Ish-bosheth was made king immediately upon Saul’s death; and the other tribes did not submit to David before seven years were expired. Between the house of Saul and the house of David — Their enmity continuing throughout the whole reign of Ish-bosheth. It is probable there were many skirmishes between Israel and Judah; but we do not read of any pitched battle.
And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;2 Samuel 3:2-3. Unto David sons were born of Ahinoam — He had no children, it seems, by this wife during his exile; or if he had, they were daughters. The daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur — A part of Syria, northward from the land of Israel. How David came by this wife it is not easy to say. Perhaps he married her out of policy, that he might have a powerful friend and ally in her father, to assist him against Ish-bosheth’s party in the north, while himself opposed them in the south. But if so, he paid dear for making piety give place to policy, as the history of Absalom, whom he had by her, shows.
And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.2 Samuel 3:5. By Eglah, David’s wife — This is added, either because she was of obscure parentage, and was known by no other title but her relation to David: or, because this was his first and most proper wife, best known by her other name of Michal, who, though she had no child by David after she scoffed at him for dancing before the ark, 2 Samuel 6:23, yet might have one before that time. And she might be named the last, because she was given away from David, and married to another man. Six sons in seven years. Some have had as numerous an offspring, and with much more honour and comfort, by one wife. And we know not that any of the six were famous: but three were very infamous.
And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.2 Samuel 3:6. Abner made himself strong, &c. — He used his utmost endeavours to support Saul’s house, going up and down through all the tribes of Israel to strengthen Ish-bosheth’s interest, and confirm the people in their allegiance to him: which is mentioned to show the reason of Abner’s deep resentment of the following aspersion.
And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine?2 Samuel 3:7. Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine? — It was then looked upon as a very great crime for any man, though never so great, to marry the relict of the king; for it was esteemed an affectation of the kingdom; as appears in the case of Adonijah.
Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?2 Samuel 3:8. Then was Abner very wroth — He accounted his merits so great, and was become so haughty, that he thought he might do any thing without reprehension; and said, Am I a dog’s head? — So contemptible a person that thou thinkest it a disgrace to thy family for me to have intercourse with thy father’s concubine. Whether Abner was guilty of the crime laid to his charge or not, does not appear; nor what ground Ish-bosheth had for the suspicion. But, however it was, it would have been prudent in him to have connived at it for the present, considering how much it was his interest not to dis-oblige Abner. And if the thing was false, and his jealousy groundless, it was very disingenuous and ungrateful to entertain unjust surmises of one who had ventured his all for him, and was certainly the best friend he had in the world. Who against Judah do show kindness unto the house of Saul — Is this my recompense for the kindness I have shown to thee and thy father’s house, and the good services I have done you? He magnifies his service with this, that it was against Judah, the tribe on which the crown was settled, and which would certainly have it at last. So that in supporting the house of Saul he acted both against his conscience and against his interest, for which he deserved a better requital than this. And yet, probably, he would not have been so zealous for the house of Saul, if he had not thereby gratified his own ambition, and hoped to find his own account in it. That thou chargest me with a fault concerning this woman? — That is, either that thou accusest me falsely concerning this matter; or that thou canst not wink at so small a fault (for so he esteemed it) as conversation with this woman, who, whatsoever she formerly was, is now so impotent and inconsiderable that she can neither serve nor disserve thy cause.
So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;2 Samuel 3:9. As the Lord hath sworn to David — These words show clearly that Abner knew very well God had resolved to bestow the kingdom of Israel upon David; and yet he had hitherto opposed it with all his might, from a principle of ambition. That is, he had all this while fought against his own knowledge and conscience, and against God himself. Now, however, (but, alas! it is out of resentment to Ish-bosheth, and from a principle of revenge,) he complies with the divine will, and vows with an oath to do that to David which the Lord had sworn to him. Undoubtedly Abner talked most foolishly in this, as if God needed his help to bring to pass what he had sworn to David, or as if his opposition could prevent it!
To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.2 Samuel 3:10. To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul — A wonderful change, which the study of revenge had wrought in him, that he who so lately had gone about the country confirming the Israelites in their opposition to David, now resolved to bring them all over to him! But here we see the hand of God. Providence made use of this unjust resentment of Abner to bring about its own designs with regard to David.
And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.2 Samuel 3:11. He could not answer Abner a word — Being thunderstruck with so unexpected a declaration. If he had had the spirit of a man, especially of a prince, he might have answered him, that his merits were the aggravation of his crimes; that he would not be served by so ill a man, and that he doubted not but he should do well enough without him. But he was conscious to himself of his own weakness, and therefore said not a word, lest he should make a bad matter worse.
And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.2 Samuel 3:12. And Abner sent messengers to David — Having thus incensed his master, he judged it not safe to delay the execution of what he had threatened. Yet he thought it neither safe nor prudent to go himself to David till he had tried his inclinations by messengers, whom he sent privately to treat with him about a reconciliation. Thus God overrules the passions of wicked men, and turns and directs their devices and counsels, to accomplish his own wise and holy purposes! And who then dare contend with that God, who makes even his enemies to do his work, and destroy themselves? Saying, Whose is this land? — To whom does it belong but to thee? is it not thine by divine right? A question this which required no answer. But Abner plainly meant to insinuate by it that he had power to give the land of Israel to him whose side he should take.
And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face.2 Samuel 3:13. And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee — David agreed to enter into a treaty with him, but upon condition that he procured the restitution of Michal his wife. Hereby David both showed the sincerity of his conjugal affection to his first and most rightful wife, from whom neither her nor his marrying another had alienated it, and also testified his respect to the house of Saul. “David did right in making this stipulation; for, whatever may be said of his other wives, he had certainly a claim to this, as she was his first wife, and a king’s daughter. And there was something of true generosity in this, both to her and to Saul, in that he received her after she had been another man’s, remembering how once she loved him, and knowing, probably, that she was, without her consent, separated from him; and to show that he did not carry his resentment of Saul’s cruel and unjust persecutions of him to any of his family; whereas many princes, for much less provocation of a wife’s father, would have turned off their consorts, in revenge of them, and even put them to death for having been married to another.” — Chandler.
And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.2 Samuel 3:14. David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth — We are not informed what answer Abner gave to David when he required the forementioned condition of him. But it is probable he let him know, as the truth was, that it was not in his power to bring Michal to him without Ish-bosheth’s consent, whose sister, as well as subject, she was; at least that it was not safe to attempt it, and therefore advised him to send to her brother, who could not easily deny what he desired. Be this as it may, David sent to Ish- bosheth, and thereby opened to him a door of hope for reconciliation, lest, being desperate, he should use every possible means to hinder Abner from his present design. Saying, Deliver me my wife — Who, though she was taken from me by force, and constrained to marry another, yet is my rightful wife. David demands her, both for the affection he still retained for her, and upon a political consideration, that she might strengthen his title to the kingdom.
And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.2 Samuel 3:15-16. Ish-bosheth sent and took her from Phaltiel — This was an honourable action of Ish-bosheth to restore David his lawful wife. Her husband went with her along weeping — “Mr. Bayle,” says Delaney, “considers it as great cruelty in David to ravish her from a husband who loved her so well; that is, he thinks it a great cruelty to disturb Phaltiel in an adultery that was agreeable to him, and to redeem Michal from one, in all appearance, detestable to her, to restore her to her only husband, the husband of her affection and her choice, for whom she had so much tenderness as to save his life at the hazard of her own. Phaltiel was in distress, but it was such a distress as they all endure who are grieved to restore what they have no right to possess; and Mr. Bayle, from the same principles upon which he quarrels with David on this head, is obliged to be highly offended with every honest man who desires to have those goods restored to him of which he once was robbed, under all the circumstances of cruelty and iniquity. And therefore, in truth, Phaltiel is no proper object of pity; and yet his distress upon this occasion is one of the finest pictures of silent grief that any history hath left us. Conscious he had no right to complain, or molest Michal with his lamentations, he follows her at a distance, with a distress silent and self-confined: going (saith the text) and weeping behind her — However such fine paintings of nature pass unregarded in the sacred writings, I am satisfied that in Homer we should survey this with delight.” Abarbinel, and the Jewish rabbis in general, are of opinion that Phaltiel was a strictly religious man, and had had no nuptial commerce with Michal.
And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.
And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:2 Samuel 3:17. And Abner — Having seen David, and given him assurance of his fidelity, as David had him of his friendship; had communication with the elders of Israel — He went back to persuade all to do as he had done. And by bringing over the great men to David, he doubted not the multitude would follow. Saying, Ye sought for David in times past — For, after the slaughter of Goliath, he was much beloved by all the people. And when he was forced to flee, a great many of Israel came over to him while he dwelt at Ziklag. And it is highly probable that, as soon as Saul and Jonathan were dead, they all generally would have inclined to make David their king, if Abner, by his great authority, had not set up one of the family of Saul.
Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.2 Samuel 3:18. The Lord hath spoken — By the hand of my servant David, &c. — We nowhere find these words recorded; but it is probable Samuel had often spoken them; at least the sense of them is implied in the words of God to Samuel, when he commanded him to anoint David king over Israel, 1 Samuel 10:1-12; for the intention of giving them a king was, that he might fight their battles, 1 Samuel 8:20.
And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.2 Samuel 3:19-20. Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin — To these he particularly applies himself, because they might be thought most kind to Saul and his house, and most loath to let the kingdom go out of their own tribe; and therefore it was necessary that he should use all his art and power with them, to persuade them to a compliance with his design; and besides, they were a valiant tribe, and bordering upon Judah, and situate between them and the other tribes; and therefore the winning of them would be of mighty concernment to bring in all the rest. Abner also went to speak in the ears of David — To report to him privately the sense of all the people, and particularly how all Benjamin stood affected toward him; who were brought over so effectually that they did not forsake the house of David when all the rest of the tribes did. David made Abner a feast — Not merely as a token of kindness, but to make a league with him, as he had desired, and David had promised, 2 Samuel 3:12-13. For it was an ancient custom to enter into leagues by eating and drinking together: see Genesis 26:30; Genesis 31:44.
So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.
And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a league with thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thine heart desireth. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.2 Samuel 3:21-22. Abner said, I will gather all Israel unto my lord the king — How empty and ill founded are the purposes of vain man! Abner, who here promises kingdoms, soon found that he could not ensure to himself one hour of life. David had sent him away, and he departed in peace; but, Behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop — In those times of distraction between Judah and Israel, we may well think their neighbours, who were enemies to both, namely, the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and others, made many inroads upon the country to get spoil. Joab, however, and the valiant men about David, watched to prevent this, and at this time had overtaken a company of them, in their return home, and recovered a great booty from them.
And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace.
When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace.
Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?2 Samuel 3:24. Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? — Upon hearing what had passed, he immediately went to David, in the pride of his success, and of the great spoil he had taken, to expostulate with him upon the folly of receiving Abner in the manner he had done, and placing any confidence in a man who, he signified, had come thither only to betray him. This presumption and insolence David was constrained to endure, because of Joab’s great power with the army and military men.
Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.
And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not.2 Samuel 3:26-27. When Joab was come out from David — He seems to have gone out in anger; not staying for an answer. He sent messengers after Abner — Probably in the king’s name, as if he had something further to communicate to him. For otherwise it is not credible that Abner would have returned. Joab took him aside in the gate — Where, it appears, he had waited for him, and, as it was a public place, where men met to do business, and where the courts of judgment sat, Abner suspected no danger, especially since Joab took him by the hand in a friendly manner, as if he wished to have some discourse with him. And smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died — Thus fell Abner by an unexpected and surprising treachery! and in the very article of returning to his duty, and in the eve of a great revolution, seemingly depending on his fate! And thus his thoughts, purposes, and boasts of gathering all Israel to David, and translating the kingdom to him, perished in a moment! In this, however treacherously and wickedly Joab acted, the Lord, in permitting it, was righteous. Abner had deliberately and maliciously opposed David, and in opposing him had acted against the dictates of his own conscience, and of his known duty to God, and that for a series of years: he had sported with the lives of his brethren, and spilled the first blood shed in this civil war; and, it may be, all the blood that was shed; at least we hear of none after the battle of Gibeon. He had now basely deserted Ish-bosheth, and betrayed him, under pretence of regard to God and Israel; but, in reality, from a principle of pride and revenge, and impatience of control. God, therefore, would not use so ill a man in so good a work as the uniting of Israel to Judah, and thereby preventing the progress of war and slaughter. And he hereby showed that he did not need his help, but could, with infinite ease, accomplish his purposes without him, thus pouring contempt on the pride of man. The following reflection of Dr. Delaney here appears both just and important.
“It is true Abner was now returned to his duty; but it is true that he returned to it now as he departed from it before, upon a pique; and from motives of ambition, interest, and revenge. He well knew the purposes and declarations of God in relation to David, and yet he deliberately opposed himself to them. And it is but just in the appointments of Providence (and nothing is more conspicuous in his government of the world) not to permit the wicked to effect that good from wrong motives which they once obstructed upon the same principles. The occasions of duty, once notoriously neglected, seldom return, at least, to equal advantage. Let no man decline the good that is in his power; if he once does so, he is no more worthy to be the happy instrument of effecting it in the hand of God. To conclude; a great revolution apparently depended upon Abner’s fate, but it did so only in the eye of human providence, as was plainly manifested from the event.”
For the blood of Asahel his brother — This was one reason of his committing this murder; but, doubtless, envy and jealousy of Abner’s great merit with David, in gaining over the tribes to him, were the main motives that impelled him to it. In the mean time his pretence was fidelity to his sovereign, and excess of care for his safety. “What,” says Josephus, reflecting on this crime, “will not men dare to do who are covetous, ambitious, and will be inferior to none, to obtain what they desire! They will commit a thousand crimes, and rather than lose what they have got, they will not fear to commit still greater wickedness.”
And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.
And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner:2 Samuel 3:28-29. When David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless — Josephus says, he lifted up his hands to God, and, with a loud voice, cried out publicly that God knew he was innocent in this matter; and therefore he trusted God would not let him and his kingdom suffer for it. And on all his father’s house — David’s indignation at the fact transported him much too far in making him wish that all Joab’s family might suffer for it, which was contrary to the law of God. See Deuteronomy 24:16. “Methinks,” says Henry, “a resolute punishment of the murderer himself would better have become David than this passionate imprecation of God’s judgments upon his posterity.” But, perhaps, the words are to be considered as a prediction rather than as an imprecation. Accordingly, Houbigant renders them, but it shall or will rest upon the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house, and there will not fail, &c.
Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread.
So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.2 Samuel 3:30. So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner — For though Joab only committed the murder, yet Abishai was chargeable with the guilt of it, because it was done with his consent, counsel, and approbation. And he probably was near at hand when the bloody deed was perpetrated, ready to assist Joab if there should be need. Because he had slain their brother Asahel in battle — Which he did for his own necessary defence, and therefore it was no justification of this treacherous murder.
And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier.2 Samuel 3:31. David said to Joab and all the people, &c. — The command was especially given to Joab, to bring him to repentance for his sin, and to expose him to public shame. Rend your clothes and gird you with sackcloth, &c. — These were all outward expressions of very great sorrow, which Joab himself was forced, however reluctant, to make a show of. And King David himself followed the bier — Was the chief mourner, attending upon the corpse, and paying Abner that respect which was due to his quality. Though this was contrary to the usage of kings, and might seem below David’s dignity; yet it was now expedient to vindicate himself from all suspicion of concurrence in this action. The word המשׂה, hammittah, here rendered the bier, properly means the bed. It was that on which persons of quality were wont to be carried forth to their graves, as ordinary people were upon what we call a bier.
And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.
And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?2 Samuel 3:33-34. Died Abner as a fool dieth? — That is, as a wicked man. Was he cut off by the hand of justice for his crimes? Nothing less; but by Joab’s malice and treachery. It is a sad thing to die as a fool dieth, as they do that any way shorten their own days; and indeed all they that make no provision for another world. Were not bound — Thou didst not tamely yield up thyself to Joab, to be bound hand and foot at his pleasure. Joab did not overcome thee in an equal combat, nor durst he attempt thee in that way, as a general or soldier of any worth would have done. Wicked men — By the hands of froward, or perverse, or crooked men, by hypocrisy and perfidiousness, whereby the vilest coward may kill the most valiant person. It is justly observed by Dr. Delaney, that this short lamentation of David over Abner is truly poetical, and evidently appears so in the most literal translation. He renders it as follows:
As dies the criminal, shall Abner die? — —
Thy hands not bound,
Nor to the fetters were thy feet applied.
— — As is their fate that fall Before the faces of the sons of guilt,
— — So art thou fallen.
For he was killed as a traitor; but had he been really so, he should have died in chains and fetters after a fair trial. And all the people wept again over him — At the recital of these words by the king, which were so mournfully spoken, the grief became universal, and the whole people wept anew.
Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him.
And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down.2 Samuel 3:35. All the people came to cause David to eat — This was agreeable to the usage of the Jews; for when any one died among them, “it was customary with the friends of the family to resort to the house immediately after the funeral, and bring the best provisions they had along with them to support and refresh their friends in affliction, to the utmost of their power. And surely a more humane and benevolent usage never obtained in any country. The presumption was, that people in affliction forgot, or, it may be, neglected, their proper refreshment at a time when they most needed it; and therefore it was the business of friendship, and one of its kindest offices, to supply that care.” David sware, saying, God do so to me, &c. — He absolutely refused to touch a morsel, and confirmed the refusal by an oath, that he would taste nothing till the sun went down. “He was resolved to clear his innocence by all the tests of real sorrow, and to satisfy the people that this was a just occasion of grief, he put them in mind of his dignity to whom he paid it.” See 2 Samuel 3:38, Delaney.
And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.2 Samuel 3:36-37. All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them — They were satisfied concerning David’s integrity, and the sincerity of his sorrow at the death of Abner, and pleased with the honour he had done that great man. Whatsoever the king did pleased the people — By this conduct he so ingratiated himself with them that they were disposed to put a kind construction upon all his actions, as wise and well becoming him. For all Israel understood that it was not of the king to slay Abner — That he neither ordered it, nor consented to it, nor in any way approved of it; but was heartily grieved for his death.
For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.
And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?2 Samuel 3:38. The king said unto his servants — Who perhaps were not sensible enough of this loss, or thought he bewailed it too much; Know ye not that there is a prince, &c., fallen this day in Israel? — He bids them consider Abner’s birth and his power, his authority and his valour, with all his other excellent qualities, and they would not think it strange that he mourned so much for him.
And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.2 Samuel 3:39. And I am this day weak — Hebrew, רךְ, rack, tender; that is, his kingdom was young, was in its infancy, as we speak, and not well settled and confirmed. The metaphor is taken from a young and tender plant. And these men — Joab and Abishai; the sons of my sister Zeruiah, be too hard for me — That is, too powerful. They have so great an interest in, and command over all the soldiers, and are in such great favour with the people, that I cannot punish them without apparent hazard to my person and kingdom; especially now, when all the tribes, except Judah, are in a state of opposition against me. But although this might give some colour to the delay of their punishment, yet it was a fault that he did not punish them in some reasonable time; both because his indulgence proceeded from a distrust of God’s power and faithfulness, as if God could not make good his promise to him against Joab and all his confederates; and because it was contrary to God’s law, which severely requires the punishment of wilful murderers, with which law David had no power to dispense. It was therefore carnal, wicked policy, yea, cruel pity, in him to spare them. He ought to have done his duty, and trusted God with the issue. If the law had had its course against Joab; it is probable the murder of Ish-bosheth, Ammon, and others, had been prevented. But in this instance, David, though anointed king, is kept in awe by his own subjects, and bears the sword in vain, contenting himself, as a private person, to leave the murderers to the judgment of God, saying, The Lord shall reward the evil- doer according to his wickedness — In the mean time, however, it must be acknowledged, he detested their actions, and was not so overawed by them but he had courage to show it.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
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