The Six Days Of Creation
We are often wisely reminded not to regard Genesis as a textbook on science. Chapter one is not “The Idiot’s Book of Biology” or “Everything You Need to Know About Astronomy” or “Everyman’s Guide to Oceanography” or “A Beginners’ Introduction to Physics” or “Teach Yourself Zoology” or “How to Understand Botany.” Genesis chapter one is not written in 21st century scientific terminology concerning the nature of man and the composition of the universe. Its style is the down-to-earth language of our everyday existence. When we say “the sun is rising” we are not affirming that the sun moves round the earth; we are describing what all men see. If Genesis one had been written as a modern textbook nobody before the 21st century would have been able to have understood it, and in a hundred years’ time it would seem quaint and dated, its limitations obvious to all. God’s purpose in Genesis chapter one is that his account of creation be understood by the illiterate as much as by the genius, the Kikuyu subsistence farmer as much as the Cambridge University scientist. I cannot believe that God would begin a book in which the world’s only saving knowledge of his Son is to be found with a chapter full of the most enormous errors. Rather I believe that we can do no greater honour to God than to count him true, and his word truth.
Reading Genesis chapter one should make us appreciate the work of scientists even longing that we ourselves might become scientists. We read Genesis one and we’re taught that this physical universe is good, worthy of careful study, that it is rational and orderly, and what we find to be true one day will also be true the next. We read Genesis one and we can see that an understanding of our world is open to the human mind. We learn from this chapter that all men were made by God in his image as a special creation and thus we have a special relationship with every other man and woman. One consequence of God having freely created all things and given us this glorious world is this – we’re under an obligation to freely share with others what we’ve gained, that we should, for example, grow more food, and practice wise husbandry and cure diseases in order to help our fellow men. These beliefs may seem obvious to us all, but they haven’t been a part of many civilizations which didn’t have the coherent set of beliefs that are set out in Genesis one. They have become a staple of the whole Christian community. We cannot be the salt of the earth and the light of the world without Genesis one. So although this chapter is not a scientific textbook it has eventually become the grounds for writing every science text book.
There is also a more fundamental reason why Genesis one is not a textbook. A real knowledge both of the Creator and of ourselves who are God’s creatures doesn’t come through science but it can only be acquired by the work of God’s word and Spirit in our hearts. Let me apply that in two ways:
i] You’ll come to understand this chapter – as you’ll understand any chapter in the entire Bible – when the Spirit of God has opened your heart and enlightened your mind. Paul writes these words to the Corinthians in the first letter, chapter two and verse fourteen, and they certainly apply to Genesis chapter one, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Or again the same apostle describes the response of Christ-rejecting Jews to what Moses had written; you find this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter three and verses fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. We are told that these unbelieving Jews used to read Genesis but, “their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” In other words, until Jesus Christ has become your prophet, priest and king the opening chapters of Genesis will be as much a mystery to you as the whole Bible. There will be a veil over this chapter for some of you until you cry to God to take it away.
ii] You can believe in the 24 hour day interpretation of Genesis one and go to hell. All the mobs who stoned John Wesley as he preached under trees and in doorways, and all the bishops who alike opposed his itinerant preaching, believed every word of Genesis one. If you questioned a butcher or a bishop who disdained Wesley, “Who created the world? How did he create it?” “God, of course, in six days,” they would curtly reply, though they lacked any knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and hated the gospel Wesley preached. It is only when the Spirit of God enlightens us concerning the Lord Jesus that we will understand the true meaning of Genesis chapter one.
There is no blindness for the Christian; even an illiterate believer readily understands the plain meaning of Genesis chapter one when he hears it read to him – “My Saviour made the world and all its fulness!” In many ways it is one of the easiest chapters in the Bible to grasp, and this is your calling, as those taught by God, to understand and then respond to God’s words, especially such important words as these are. You are not dependent on a series of my sermons to grasp what is the message of this particularly lucid chapter. The same Holy Spirit present at creation, who indwelt Moses when he wrote these words, actually indwells all of you Christians as you read them. There should be an act of recognition taking place as you hear them read, so that you can understand them and carry the consequences of them into your life. Genesis one, I say, is a simple, factual account of what once took place on this earth, written in plain language. Our minds are to be controlled by the great truths that this chapter teaches.
Our understanding of this chapter comes from a natural reading of its contents. We ask concerning each verse, “What is Moses saying in this section?” and we also find our appreciation enlarged by the rest of the corpus of Scripture. This first chapter of Genesis is organically linked with the entire living Bible. It leads us into the whole story of the Creator’s mighty redemption. You can tell a lot about the nature of the God revealed in the rest of the Bible from Genesis chapter one. Let me illustrate it in this gruesome way; the police find a part of a human body, maybe it is an arm, and they are able to scientifically deduce from it that this belongs to a girl aged, say, around 12. They can tell what race she is. They may check the dirt under her finger nails and will know what part of the country that comes from. They know a lot from one arm concerning the rest of her body. Genesis one is not an arm, it is a trunk! Genesis one is not a free floating pamphlet; it is the opening chapter of the whole Bible. The rest of Scripture presumes the existence of Genesis one and the mighty Elohim of this chapter. The remainder of the Bible also casts its own light back on these words. So we compare the contents of Genesis chapter one to the whole corpus of Scripture, and “in your light we see light” (Psa. 36:9).
Most of the data you need for correctly understanding Scripture is found in the Bible itself. We don’t need to cry to Mother Church for understanding – no need for the bishops to gather and make a pronouncement, or for an archaeologist or astronomer to explain it, nor that we should plead with the latest scientific thinker – to a Stephen Hawking for example – to make the nature of reality plain to us simpletons. That would be as foolish as reading the latter chapters of a Bertrand Russell book in order to understand the first chapter of one of the C. S. Lewis’ children’s books. The Word of God is a unique unity; it sheds its own light on itself. Of course we certainly don’t disdain or ignore what Christian men throughout the ages have preached from Genesis chapter one, nor will we dismiss out of hand what today’s scientists believe to be the nature of men and matter. How indebted we are to such men. Genesis one, as I have said, is not anti-science; it is pro-science. Science’s indebtedness to Genesis one is immense. We must try to avoid making this chapter the storm centre of controversy. It is a wonderfully moving narrative that asks us to meditate on its teaching. At the end of each of the days of creation we should be saying to ourselves, “What do you think of that? Doesn’t that simply take your breath away?” Let us look at the six days of creation.
After God first made the heavens and the earth the world was completely lacking in any dry land. It was covered in a black ocean, uninhabited and empty, but the Spirit of God surrounded the whole earth, moving dynamically over the face of this dark chaos. God spoke; “Light . . . be!” Light was! Psalm thirty-three and verse nine is a commentary on these words, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.“
On the second day of creation God established an expanse which was the sky, and above it a ring of clouds or maybe there was even an expansive vapour-like canopy of water before the flood. So God made the atmosphere, and the waters below it were soon to become the oceans of the world. Thank God for the atmosphere. It is an indispensable part of creation. It keeps every creature from freezing. Without it the earth would be a sterile ball of ice with an average temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius. This ‘expanse’ which God made absorbs or deflects incoming swarms of cosmic rays, ultraviolet rays and the like. This gaseous padding – which is what the atmosphere is like – is equivalent to a four and a half metre thickness of protective concrete. Without it even the raindrops would pound us senseless – that would give a funeral dirge to the line, “Raindrops are falling on my head.” The atmosphere which God designed becomes a slowing drag on the rain. This proto-expanse which is described on the second day isn’t very big. It extends upwards about 190 kilometers, first there is the ring of the troposphere eight to ten miles thick, and then the stratosphere, and then the mesosphere, and finally the ionosphere.
The expanse was made between the waters “to separate water from water” (v.6). Water is everywhere. Bill Bryson points out that, “A potato is 80 per cent water, a cow 74 percent, a bacterium 75 percent. A tomato, at 95 per cent, is little but water. Even humans are 65 per cent water making us more liquid than solid by a margin of almost two to one . . . Most liquids when chilled contract by about 10 per cent. Water does too, but only down to a point. Once it is within whispering distance of freezing, it begins – perversely, beguilingly, extremely improbably – to expand . . . Because it expands, ice floats on water – ‘an utterly bizarre property,’ according to John Gribbin . . . Without surface ice to hold heat in the water’s warmth would radiate away, leaving it even chillier and creating yet more ice. Soon even the oceans would freeze and almost certainly stay that way for a very long time, probably for ever . . .
“There are 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water on Earth . . . Ninety-seven percent of all the water on Earth is in the seas, the greater part of it in the Pacific, which is bigger than all the land masses put together . . . Of the 3 per cent of Earth’s water that is fresh, most exists as ice sheets. Only the tiniest amount – 0.036 per cent – is found in lakes, rivers and reservoirs, and an even smaller part in clouds or as vapour . . .” (Bill Bryson, “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” pp. 238-240). So the waters were separated on the second day of creation.
On the third day of creation (some of the waters having been taken up into the atmosphere on the second day) there were two great acts of creation. The dry land could now appear, separated from the seas. This is an act of divine action of such utter magnitude that our minds cannot grasp it. We are being told that this day God made land masses the size of Africa, and the size of Asia – China and India and Japan. Then, perhaps in that order, we do not know, God turned to creating Europe, and to north and south America, and Australia and the islands of the seas, to the Arctic and the Antarctic. I believe that the flood was to have a devastating effect on the earth, and that mountain ranges and river valleys and even the divisions of the continents were all affected by the flood, but certainly on this third day of creation God made areas of land the size of our continents today. Moses slips in this utterly devastating little phrase in verse 11, “And it was so.” Your Lord and Saviour, the Son of God is as powerful as this that he could make in a day all the land masses of the earth. This is the one who laid down his own life on Golgotha, when God the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.
This was the Lord whom Jeremiah the prophet served. He preached in the name of this mighty Creator to a defiant people, and Jeremiah’s mind was suffused with the greatness of this Almighty One – the God of Genesis one. Jeremiah looks at his congregations’ contempt for God and he is appealing to this third day of creation when he cries, “‘Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away‘” (Jer. 5:21-23). The mighty ocean is taught its limits; its waves may roar but it cannot encroach on the earth’s land masses, but unbelieving men and women indulge in all sorts of corruption. They constantly overstep the moral boundaries which God has set on our behaviour. They flood the nations with their depravity. The constant tsunamis of their wickedness roll across the world of mankind. “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?” says the Lord.
So land was made, and immediately on this same third day our mighty Creator spread out all the beginnings of the plant kingdom. You will see that they are not divided up into biological categories in verses eleven and twelve. The three Hebrew phrases refer firstly to the grasses that grow and spread along the ground – that is the “vegetation” – and then those which grow to shoulder height – “plants bearing seed” – and finally those which grow taller than a man – “trees bearing fruit.” Botanists think that there are about 250,000 species of plants, and on this third day of creation there was a universal clothing with vegetation – grass, bushes and trees – of all the world. By the end of this third day there was a mature functioning system without the necessity of years of waiting before trees blossomed and budded and bore fruit. I am saying that this verse seems to be teaching that God made the vegetable system instantly, universally, fully-grown, and fully-functioning.
We have a singular example of this in the book of Numbers chapter seventeen. There was a time of constant grumbling amongst the children of Israel. Moses and Aaron’s leadership was being challenged by the people, and so God demanded that the leaders of the twelve tribes should bring their twelve staffs and set them in the Tent of Meeting. God said these words, “The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites” (v.5). So that night the twelve shepherd staffs, symbols of the authority of the tribal chiefs, were thrust erect into the ground in the Tent of Meeting. What was the sight that greeted them in the morning? “The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds” (Num. 17:8). Life was given to a gnarled old staff – resurrection – and then instant growth. What would take a year or longer was miraculously produced in a night.
You have another instance of the instantaneous nature of God’s creative power in the first miracle Jehovah Jesus performed, which took place in a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The host, you will remember, was embarrassed at running out of wine in the middle of the banquet. Then the Lord Jesus told the man’s servants to fill six stone water jars with water. Each one held about thirty gallons of water. When they had done this Jesus said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet” (Jn.2:8). They did so to discover that the water had been turned into mature wine. You know the natural process by which water is turned into wine? Rain falls, enters the soil, is drawn into the vines through their roots, and then by osmosis is taken to each part of the vine. It steadily swells the grapes and is transformed by the plant and the sunlight into grape juice. These grapes, when they are ripe, are picked, crushed and purified and allowed to rest and age for a year or two. Then you have aged wine, but our Lord in a second changed water into mature wine. So in creation on the third day he filled the earth he’d made with vegetation. God made the trees, and one day out of a tree a cross was going to be fashioned to which this Creator was nailed.
On the fourth day of creation God made the lights in the expanse of the sky. All the heavenly bodies were made by him. First God created the sun. Listen to one non-Christian commenting on this; “We are, to an almost uncanny degree, the right distance from the right sort of star, one that is big enough to radiate lots of energy, but not so big as to burn itself out swiftly. It is a curiosity of physics that the larger a star is, the more rapidly it burns. Had our star been ten times as massive, it would have exhausted itself after ten million years instead of ten billion and we wouldn’t be here now. We are also fortunate to orbit were we do. Too much nearer, and everything on earth would have boiled away. Much further away, and everything would have frozen” (Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p.218). Bryson speaks of the “uncanny degree” of accuracy that places the sun where it is.
God also created the moon, and again Bill Bryson’s observations are fascinating; “Most moons are tiny in relation to their master planet . . . Our Moon, however, is more than a quarter the diameter of the Earth, which makes ours the only planet in the solar system with a sizable moon in comparison to itself . . . and what a difference that makes to us. Without the Moon’s steadying influence, the Earth would wobble like a dying top, with goodness knows what consequences for climate and weather. The Moon’s steady gravitational influence keeps the Earth spinning at the right speed and angle to provide the sort of stability necessary for the long and successful development of life” (op cit. pp.219 & 220). And how does Bryson respond to these facts? “We are very lucky to find ourselves in that position” (op cit. p.220). Luck! Yes, in the beginning was it luck that created the heavens and the earth? That incredulous message is the only message opponents of Genesis one possess.
So first of all the sun and the moon were made, and then there is the divine understatement of verse sixteen, much quoted, “He also made the stars.” Now before the invention of the telescope men were able to see just about six thousand stars in the sky. That is the entire number visible to the naked eye from earth, but in fact the total of stars one person is able to see from any single spot is no more than two thousand. Moses would have seen that number from the Egyptian palace, or while he tended his father-in-law’s sheep in the desert. We can see far more today; with binoculars a man can see about fifty thousand from one location, and with a small 2-inch telescope the figure leaps to three hundred thousand stars. We have more information than Moses about the nature of the universe, for example, that we on planet earth are part of a galaxy called the Milky Way and there are estimated to be 400 billion stars in this galaxy, and then there are 80 billion other galaxies in the universe, all of which God made on the fourth day.
Children, can we count the stars? No. But God has counted them and given them all their names. They are very beautiful especially when you get out of the city and are in the country on a cloudless night. Then you can see them, and do you know that they are speaking? They are saying to you, “How glorious is the God who made us.” This earth on which we stand is like a grain of sand in the midst of these innumerable galaxies. Our lifetime is a tiny bit of time in the midst of the great eternity that surrounds us. What is one atom compared to a great mountain range? What is one year of your life compared to the ages that roll on for ever and ever. Yet that little life of ours is precious beyond all the most precious things you could obtain, and more important than the most important things this world has to offer you. Your life will either be full of joy or full of sorrow for ever and ever.
There was once a man who considered himself very wise, and he wished to perplex a man whom he saw going to church every Sunday. “Where are you going?” he asked. “To my church,” said the Christian. “What are you going to do there?” he asked him. “Worship God,” he replied. “Is your God a great God or a little God?” “He is both,” the Christian replied. “How come?” said the learned man. “He is so great that he fills the heavens, and yet so little that he can live in my heart.” Children, has the God who fills the universe filled your life? Have you asked him to do so, and told him you won’t stop until he does so?
So on day three God had already made the earth with its extraordinary diversified and organized chemical structure, its infinite variety of living things, and then on day four he surrounded it with the sun and the moon and the stars of heaven. There is not another object in the whole universe which is as delicately complex as Mother Earth, and men will never find one! The stars for all their vast size – and some are ten to twenty times bigger than our sun – are relatively simple in form and substance, but how breathtakingly extraordinary is the earth! Think of this, that the sun and the moon were created for the earth! Once the vegetation was made then immediately they would need the sunlight. The sun and moon were created for signs, and for 24 hour days, and for 365 day years – verse fourteen underlines how extraordinarily man-centred is Genesis one. Once the plants had covered the earth then sun and moon had to be created immediately for light and darkness. In other words, God placed the heavenly bodies in the sky for the benefit that they would bring to the earth. Again you see the insistence that we’re not living on some backwater ghetto of a little planet, in an insignificant solar system, a tiny part of some small galaxy. We men and women are made in God’s image, and are living at the heart of God’s redemptive activity. A man in Christ can make this staggering statement, “I am the meaning of the universe. The Creator loved me and gave himself for me.” When the Son of God one day appears then, flashing out in a twinkling of eye from this world to the remotest boundaries of the universe, a new heavens and a new earth are going to be made redolent with the righteousness of Christ.
On the fifth day of creation God made the fish and the birds. The first mammals that God created were “the great creatures of the sea” (v.21), and these are the largest animals that have ever lived. God didn’t begin by making a single cell living creature; God started with the whale! Of course God also made the whelk, and the plankton on which the whale lives. Each species has a natural source of nourishment and this provision was adequately made by the Creator. God wouldn’t make a creature without also providing for its constant needs. So God made the great blue whale, a creature of the sea of such leviathan proportions that, to quote David Attenborough, ‘its tongue weighs as much as an elephant, its heart is the size of a car and some of its blood vessels are so wide that you could swim through them.’ It is, I say, the most gargantuan beast the earth has seen, or ever will see, bigger than the most cumbrous dinosaur. Yet how little we know about great blue whales. Where do they go to breed? What route do they take to get there? How is it that they can break off one of their songs and then pick it up at exactly the same spot six months later? These great creatures of the sea are actually mammals which routinely must come up to the surface to breathe.
Then another is the giant squid, whose eyes are the size of footballs and who trailing tentacles can be sixty feet in length. It weighs nearly a ton and it’s the earth’s largest invertebrate, and yet no person has ever seen a giant squid alive. Zoologists have devoted careers trying to glimpse a living giant squid and have always failed. We know about these squid from their being washed ashore dead – especially on the South Island of New Zealand. God made them on the fifth day, the “great creatures of the sea;” isn’t it fascinating how God himself singles them out as though creating in every person our fascination with them? All the world has this curiosity with the mighty creatures of the deep. When a whale lost its way and swam up the Thames last month it made headlines in the media for days. It was our God who made everything in the ocean’s depths; “every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kind” (v.21). According to one estimate there could be as many as thirty million species of animals living in the sea, most still undiscovered. When a whale dies and sinks to the bottom of the sea as many as 390 species of marine life have been found dining off it!
Our Saviour gives us an example of the miraculous instant creation of fish when he fed five thousand men. You will remember how multitudes have followed him and he has taught them all day until they are hungry for food. So Jehovah Jesus proceeds to feed them by taking five loaves and two fishes. He begins to tear them apart and to put them in trays which his disciples distribute to the sitting crowds. Christ never stopped tearing the food apart; there was always more, until all the crowd was satisfied and twelve baskets of fragments were left over. Our Master was not creating fish spawn, or baby fish the size of minnows, but fully grown fish that had been dried or cooked ready for eating. One boy would eat two fishes with his bread for a meal. A grown man would need at least three, and there were five thousand sitting on the hill, not counting the women and children, and all were fed and there was much left over. So Jesus rapidly created maybe as many as twenty thousand fully formed fish. Who are you meeting in the gospels? This is the incarnate God of Genesis one.
God also made the birds on the fifth day. There is something majestic about the words of God, “let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky” (v.20) Birds are simply remarkable creatures. We only have to watch the flocks of starlings, a thousand or more birds in close formation, here in Aberystwyth at the end of the afternoon, circling around the pier on the promenade and coming home to roost. It is a fabulous sight. Birds can create a sense of peace and joy. When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, “How great Thou art!”
Let me tell you about some of the birds which God created on the fifth day. There is the Arctic tern that flies over more of the planet than any other creature. It is the longest distance migrant. It breeds in the constant summer north of the Arctic Circle, and then it migrates southwards the length of the world to reach the Antarctic pack ice, 11,000 miles away for its constant summer time. Back and fore it flies, from pole to pole.
Again, there is the hummingbird whose heartbeat has been timed at 1,000 beats a minute – that’s 16 beats a second. Hummingbirds migrate from the United States to Central and South America to feed on the plants there. Some of them fly the 500 miles straight across the Gulf of Mexico. After 250 miles above the sea there’s no turning back! What a feat of endurance for a bird so tiny. The peregrine falcon may be the fastest bird on earth. Its dive, or “stoop,” on an intended victim has been timed at 180 mph.
The great gray owl hunts entirely by sound. It sits on a larch branch surveying a snow field; it has extraordinary super-stereo hearing – one ear is placed higher than the other – and it hears a tiny movement beneath the surface of the snow and swoops on it.
The bird with the keenest sense of smell may be the turkey vulture. In the rain forest of Trinidad, David Attenborough conducted an experiment. He buried some meat in leaf litter. Well within an hour, vultures had detected the smell from above the tree canopy and over half a mile away, and they located the meat by their sense of smell.
The Antarctic Penguins are the deep sea champions among birds. They can dive to depths of over 1,300 feet, and speed through the sea in search of fish and squid. Emperor penguins can stay 11 minutes under water during a dive. How these birds manage to survive at such depths is a mystery. The Emperor penguin is better adapted to the cold than any other animal on earth. It is the only bird that can survive the Antarctic ice cap in winter. There is a splendid film that has just been released about them.
A sand grouse is the busiest eater in the bird world. It needs to find several seeds every second to get enough food to survive. It pecks up each seed individually, and each bird will consume between 5,000 and 80,000 seeds a day. Some seeds are so small that it takes 5,000 to make up just one gram. Then there are the albatrosses which can live for up to 60 years. We don’t have time to speak of butterflies and bats, that is, flying insects and flying mammals, but they were all created on the fifth day. How wonderful the Creator must be to think of such diversity in all his creation!
On the sixth day of creation God made animals and man. We will give some time on another occasion to the creation of man. Let me close with this consideration of God creating the ‘animal kingdom’ as it is called – Jehovah is the King of the beasts. We are told that God made the livestock, and they are mentioned first because primarily the children of Israel were nomads following herds of cattle, camels, sheep and goats. The people lived and slept and died with these animals around them. Nothing was more a part of their life than their livestock, hence their choice of an idol when they rebelled in the wilderness. They made a calf out of gold and the leaders cried, “Behold your god!” “Now remember that our God made all these animals,” says Moses. The Moabites or Ammonites might worship their cattle. They had one particular god who was the god of the cattle and sheep, but Israel must never worship their livestock, we worship the livestock’s Creator who is the God of the universe, and the one who speaks to Moses and the prophets.
So the ten thousand sheep that surround Aberystwyth, inhabiting almost every field, are our Father’s by right of creation. We ask, how can anyone torment a living creature made by God? What depravity
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