10. Psalms: Looking Forward to the Messiah
(Psalms 2, 110, and 22)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (31:32)

Psalm 22 speaks rather explicitly of the crucifixion. Diego Velázquez (Spanish painter, 1599-1660) "Christ Crucified / Cristo Crucificado" (1632), 248x169 cm
Oli sobre tela, Museo del Prado (Madrid). Larger image.
An expectancy of God's deliverance through the coming Messiah is interwoven through a number of psalms, in fact, the Psalms is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament. In many cases these passages find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ Jesus our Savior.1

Messianic Psalms and the Nature of Prophecy

Before we begin, however, we need to define what we mean by a "Messianic Psalm." There are two alternatives:

  1. Narrow sense. This view sees a messianic psalm as prophetic and having no direct message of significance to the Old Testament period; they only predict the coming Messiah.
  2. General sense. Psalms that anticipate the Messiah but also have meaning in a contemporary context of the writer.2

I think I find myself finding common ground with both definitions. I believe that some psalms are prophetic of the Messiah Jesus. Given under the inspiration of the Spirit, they sometimes speak about concepts and persons beyond the author's knowledge and understanding.

In my study of prophecy,3 I conclude that true prophets -- Old Testament, New Testament, or today -- don't necessarily understand all that they are saying to the degree that they could expound on their prophecies and interpret them accurately in advance. They may not even know that they are speaking in prophecy. They are given the words from the Holy Spirit and speak or write those words. The fulfillment and interpretation are usually far beyond them, to be revealed by God in his own good time.

In chapter 7 we looked at Psalm 16 where David speaks prophetically (I believe) of Jesus:

"You will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay." (Psalm 16:10)

David probably spoke of his confidence that in a particular instance God would deliver him rather than letting him be killed by his enemies. But as the apostles boldly declared, his words find their ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35).

In this chapter we'll consider three additional psalms which, to Christians, clearly point to Christ. They formed part of the core of the early church's apologetic to Judaism that ultimately won tens of thousands of Jews to the Christian faith in the first century.

Psalm 2 - You Are My Son, Today I Have Begotten You

Psalm 2 has no author given nor title to explain its context or use, though it was doubtless used in ancient Judaism to refer to the Davidic king, perhaps at the enthronement of a new king. However, the New Testament reads it as speaking far beyond any earthly monarch. The relationship to the Messiah and Yahweh described in this psalm is far closer than could be said of any Davidic king prior to Christ.

The Nations Conspire Against Yahweh and His Messiah (2:1-6)

"1Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the LORD
and against his Anointed One.
3'Let us break their chains,' they say,
'and throw off their fetters.'
4The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5Then he rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6'I have installed my King
on Zion, my holy hill.'" (2:1-6)

The psalmist is speaking about an international conspiracy against Yahweh and his King. While its first readers saw this in terms of the nations that surrounded Israel and the descendent of David who ruled in Jerusalem (until 587 BC), the passage is framed with a cosmic dimension. In Revelation this spiritual rebellion against God and his Messiah is couched in terms of the woman and her male child (Revelation 12:1-6), the battle between the archangel Michael and the dragon (Revelation 12:7-17), the Antichrist and the False Prophet (Revelation 13), and the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17). It is a spiritual battle fought in heavenly places.

The term "Anointed One" (NIV) or "anointed" (KJV, NRSV) is māshīaḥ̣, from the verb māshaḥ, "to anoint, spread a liquid."4 Anointing was used in a ritual sense to apply oil to set apart to God religious items (Exodus 40:9-11) and especially people to divine service -- priests (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25), kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 15:17; 16:13; 2 Samuel 12:7; Psalm 18:50), and finally Yahweh's ultimate King, the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1; Daniel 9:24-26).

The Apostle Peter preached that Psalm 2:1-2 are prophetic of the conspiracy of Herod and Pontius Pilate that resulted in Christ's crucifixion (Acts 4:25-26). The "nations" refer to the Gentiles (the Romans), and "kings of the earth" and "rulers" to Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Sanhedrin.

You Are My Son (2:7-8)

The psalmist may have initially thought he was speaking of the Davidic king as a "son" in the figurative sense portrayed in the Davidic Covenant:

"I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men." (2 Samuel 7:14-15)5

But Psalm 2:7-9 goes far beyond this sense. Verse 7 speaks of an especially close relationship between the Father and Son, Yahweh and his Messiah, that is difficult to interpret as speaking of a merely human king. Verse 8 seems to speak of a king that rules over the whole earth, not just the nations that surround Israel itself:

"7I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, 'You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.'
8Ask of me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9You will rule them with an iron scepter;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery." (2:7-9)

God uses this Father-Son terminology when he speaks in a voice from heaven at both Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at his Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5): "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

In John's Gospel, Jesus used this kind of Father-Son metaphor extensively, to such an extent that the Jews believed he was applying it in the sense of claiming to be divine himself (John 8:54; 10:30-33), accused him of blasphemy, and tried to stone him.

The revealed truth of this Father-Son metaphor is so strong and important that feminist attempts in our day to remove the male, "paternalistic" overtones of the metaphor come up short and seriously shortchange our understanding. They typically fall back to Creator-Christ terminology which, though true, gut the important relational elements of the Father-Son metaphor which are clearly part of the relation of God and Christ. This Father-Son metaphor is first clearly revealed in Psalm 2:7.

The phrase "today I have begotten you" (2:7) uses the verb yālad, which, when used of females referring to the act of giving birth and when used of males refers to the act of begetting or insemination. Here it may have a figurative sense.5 In Christian theology, of course, the Father-Son relationship is seen as an especially fitting metaphor to explain the relationship between God and Jesus, not as a literal, physical phenomenon, but as an irreplaceable metaphor which is essential to our understanding of the Godhead as revealed by Jesus in the Bible.6 Verse 7 is quoted as referring to Jesus in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.

Today I Have Begotten You (2:7)

This verse:

"You are my Son;
today I have begotten you." (2:7)

is also the source of the "only begotten son" terminology in John's writings (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9; 5:1, 18).

The sense in which Jesus was begotten has spawned some heresies in church history. In the days leading up to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the Gnostic-leaning Alexandrian priest Arius (c. 250/256 - 336 AD) claimed that since Jesus was "begotten," that there was a time that he didn't exist, and that being "begotten" meant that, in a sense, he was created by God. The Jehovah's Witnesses have continued this idea that "only begotten" meant that Jesus was created. The Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation infamously translates John 1:1 as "the word was a god" rather than "the Word was God" (all other modern translations). Some liberal theologians, seeking to deny the inherent divinity of Jesus, have suggested that Jesus was an ordinary man who was "begotten" when he received the Holy Spirit at his baptism.

It is impossible to trace all these arguments here, but orthodox Christians have always maintained Christ's essential divinity, as clearly delineated in the Nicene Creed (originally in 325 and finally in 381 AD):

"We believe in ... one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father...."

The Nicene Creed made clear that Jesus was not some kind of divine human or lesser God, but that his divinity was on a par with that of the Father Himself -- "very God of very God," that is, "true God coming from the true God." The idea of "begotten, not made" made clear that this was not an act of creation, but that Jesus had the same essence or "substance" (hypostatis) as the Father, he was formed of the same divine "stuff" as the Father -- that is, Jesus is fully divine, not some kind of lesser divinity.

I've probably said more than you ever wanted to know about Jesus being "begotten," but since it figures so prominently in our understanding of who Jesus is, I felt that it is important for you to know.

Kiss the Son (2:10-12)

The psalm concludes:

"10Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11Serve the LORD with fear
and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him." (2:10-12)

Verse 12a has been translated variously "kiss the Son" (KJV, NIV), "kiss his feet" (NRSV, NJB), and "kiss the mighty one" (New English Bible). The Hebrew text (bar, "son") seems to be best translated "kiss the Son." The other translations are based on emendations or conjectures of what a "corrupted" text originally said. But whether the translation is "kiss the Son" (as seems called for by the text) or "kiss his feet," the point is that the kings and rulers of the earth need to submit to Yahweh's anointed Son with the kiss of homage before he comes with might to put down their rebellion towards him.

Q1. (Psalm 2) What does Psalm 2 teach us about Yahweh's "anointed" king? Why do you think the apostles saw this passage as referring to Jesus the Messiah? What does the passage teach about the importance of submission to Jesus the Christ before it is too late?



Psalm 110 - The Messiah as Priest and King

Psalm 110 is attributed to David and referred to as "a psalm," which probably means an accompanied song.

The Messiah Is Greater than David (110:1)

It is Jesus himself who pointed to this psalm as one that refers to the Messiah:

"The LORD says to my Lord:
'Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.'" (110:1)

Matthew records:

"41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42'What do you think about the Christ ? Whose son is he?'
'The son of David,' they replied.
43He said to them, "'How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him "Lord"? For he says,
44"The Lord said to my Lord:
'Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies under your feet.'"
45If then David calls him "Lord," how can he be his son?' 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions." (Matthew 22:41-46)

Though the Jews of Jesus' time saw Psalm 110 as Messianic, they saw the Messiah in purely human terms, as a physical descendent of David, and thus inferior to David. Jesus' question, based on his careful understanding of this psalm, revealed the "greater than David" nature of the Messiah.

A Universal Messianic Rule (110:2-3)

Now the psalmist declares that Yahweh will extend the Messiah's kingdom far beyond the boundaries of Israel:

"2The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
3Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth." (110:2-3)

Messiah's rule will be resisted by his enemies (as in Psalm 2), but will be extended by force with the Messiah at the head of a mighty army (verse 3; see Revelation 19:11-21). Throughout the Psalms is the image of Yahweh as the Mighty Warrior. Yahweh's Messiah, the one that reigns for him and extends his rule, is the Mighty Warrior par excellence!

The Eternal Priest from Melchizedek's Order (110:4)

The Jews of Jesus' day understood Messiah coming as a conquering king who would set up Yahweh's kingdom on earth, reviving the glory days of David's rule. What they did not understand was the Messiah as a priest. Verse 4 presents a cryptic image:

"The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
'You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.'" (110:4)

Melchizedek was a contemporary of Abraham. He was both king of Jerusalem and priest of the Most High God. Because of his position as a priest of the God that Abraham served, Abraham presented him with one tenth of the spoils of battle (Genesis 14:18-20).

The writer of Hebrews, in an extensive exposition of Psalm 110:4 (Hebrews 5:6-10; 6:20-7:28), clearly sees Melchizedek as a type of Christ our High Priest (though not as an actual appearance of Christ himself, as some hold).8

Psalm 110 combines the roles of king and priest in a way that is unheard of elsewhere in the Old Testament.9 This King and Priest of Psalm 110 not only rules for Yahweh, he acts as a mediator between man and God to atone for man's sins. Only when we understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, who in himself bore our sins and carried our iniquities, can we understand how Jesus served as a priest to bring us to God. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men...." (1 Timothy 2:5-6; also Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; and Mark 10:45)

Messiah Will Subdue and Judge the Nations (110:5-7)

Psalm 110 concludes with a poetic prophecy of how the Messiah will exert his rule over all his enemies, fulfilled ultimately at the Battle of Armageddon and the final battle at the end of days spoken of in Revelation:

"5The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
6He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
7He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head." (110:5-7)

Verse 7 concludes the psalm with the Warrior-Messiah pausing to refresh himself at a brook as he is in pursuit of his enemy, and then continuing on, like Gideon at the Jordan, "faint yet pursuing." The final promise, "Therefore he will lift up his head" (7b) looks forward to his final victory over his enemy.

Q2. (Psalm 110) Why do you think that Jesus asked the Pharisees about verse 1, "If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" What point was Jesus making? How does Jesus combine the roles of Warrior-King and Priest in his ministry to us and to this world? How do you reconcile the violence suggested in verses 5-6 with Jesus as "Prince of Peace"?



Psalm 22 - My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Psalm 22 is a remarkable psalm indeed. In the context of the Old Testament, it can be seen as a lament followed by a hymn of praise. But in the context of the New Testament, it must be clearly seen as a psalm pointing again and again to the crucifixion of Christ. Frost went so far as to call this psalm the "Fifth Gospel" account of the crucifixion.10 Kidner titles it, "The Psalm of the Cross."11 It is quite clear that Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 together formed the core of Jesus' and the early church's understanding of the crucifixion.

Peter notes that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30-31). Indeed he was filled with the Spirit at his anointing. But did David know what he was saying? I doubt it. When he wrote the first part of the psalm, he probably was expressing his own deep lament in highly figurative terms -- figures that were brought to his mind by the Holy Spirit. This side of the cross, however, those figures speak to us strongly of Jesus' crucifixion. Were they intended by David to refer to the cross? No. Were they intended by the Spirit to speak of Jesus' crucifixion. Of that I have no doubt. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Why Have You Forsaken Me? (22:1-2)

Verse 1 was on Jesus' lips during his crucifixion:

"1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent." (22:1-2)

Before the Psalms were numbered, a particular psalm would be referred to by its first line. In speaking the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus pointed not to just the first verse, but to the whole psalm.

However, his quoting the first line may be significant as well. Though we are probing here beyond the explicit teaching of scripture, when Jesus was on the cross bearing our sins, he may have felt spiritual separation from the holy God because of our sin he was bearing. He felt alone because he took our sin and guilt upon himself.

Q3. (Psalm 22:1) Why do you think Jesus spoke the words of Psalm 22:1? What was he seeking to express? What was he feeling? How did God answer his plea?



God Is Enthroned on Our Praises (22:3)

A phrase commonly cited by worship leaders comes from the KJV of Psalm 22:3:

"But thou art holy,
O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." (KJV)
"Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel." (NRSV)
"Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel." (NIV)

The keyword to understand clearly is "inhabitest" (KJV), "enthroned" (NIV, NRSV), "make your home" (NJB). It is the verb yāshab, "sit, remain, dwell." The word's meaning is based on the context. In the Qal stem it can mean (1) "to sit on anything, (2) "to remain, stay, linger," (3) "to dwell in a house, city, territory," and (4) of a place, city, or country being inhabited.12 Could the idea of "inhabit, dwell" be intended here? Yes. But because of the context of the first assertion, "You are holy," I believe yāshab refers to Yahweh's splendor and majesty, an idea conveyed by the concept of enthronement better than by that of habitation. God is everywhere; there is nowhere we can go where he is not (Psalm 139:7-10). But from our human perspective, when we worship and praise God we can certainly sense his presence much more easily. By our praise, we declare him King, exalt him, and thus "enthrone" him before us.

Comparisons to the Crucifixion (22:6-18)

Rather than try to provide an exposition of the entire psalm, for the purposes of considering the messianic aspects of the psalm, I will focus on the verses that have the greatest correspondence with Jesus' crucifixion. While I have no doubt that the actual events of Jesus' crucifixion took place as recorded in the Gospels, it is probable that the terminology by which they were communicated was influenced by the words of this startling psalm that we are studying:

"But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people." (22:6)
"He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3)
"All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
'He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.'" (22:7-8)
"He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him." (Luke 18:32-33)

"The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.'" (Luke 23:35)

"Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me." (22:12-13)
"Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed." (Acts 4:27)
"I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me." (22:14)
"Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.'" (Matthew 26:38a).

"And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:44)

"My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death." (22:15)
"Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' (John 19:28)
"Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet." (22:16)
"And they crucified him." (Mark 15:25)

"They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zechariah 12:10)

"I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing." (22:17-18)
"And they divided up his clothes by casting lots." (Luke 23:34)

"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 'Let's not tear it,' they said to one another. 'Let's decide by lot who will get it.'" (John 19:23-24)

David's lament seemed to be about his own sorrow, but in reality he was relating the lament of the Son of David, the Messiah himself.

The Conclusion of Praise (22:19-31)

Experiencing the Psalms, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, a Bible study on Psalms in 12 lessons
Now all the lessons are available together in e-book and paperback formats.

This remarkable psalm begins with a lament but ends with a hymn of praise in verses 19-31. Most of the verses in this praise section seem more general, not specific to Jesus the Messiah. However, the author of Hebrews quotes verse 22 in reference to Jesus (Hebrews 2:12). And the final verses seem to point again to the Messiah that God would send:

"Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn --
for he has done it." (22:30-31)

His people would finally appreciate the depths to which the Son of God and Son of Man went to redeem us. We do declare his righteousness! And we will pass on the "Greatest Story Ever Told" to our children's children, "to a people yet unborn -- for He has done it!"

Q4. (Psalm 22) What similarities do you see between the words of Psalm 22 and the events of Jesus' crucifixion? Do you think Jesus understood Psalm 22 as referring to himself? Why do you think the Spirit inspired David to pen these words?




Exercise. For one of the psalms in this lesson -- or another psalm with a similar theme -- do one of the suggested exercises to help you experience the Psalms (www.jesuswalk.com/psalms/psalms-exercises.htm). These include such things as praying a psalm, meditating, reading to a shut-in, paraphrasing, writing your own psalm, singing, preparing a liturgy, and memorizing. Then report to the forum what the exercise meant to you personally or share what you've written with others.


Father, your ways are above our ways. Here in the Psalms, thousands of years before Jesus, you have set the stage, given the clues, and set in motion the plan. We come to you with reverent and awed hearts, O God. Thank you for your love expressed in Jesus our Messiah! In his mighty name, we pray. Amen.


None of these three psalms seem to have become the theme of many popular hymns or praise choruses:

  • "Every Time that We Are Gathered," words and music by Denise Graves (© 1993, 1995, Maranatha Praise, Inc.). Reference to Psalm 22:6.
  • "Here Am I" ("Ask of Me and I will give the nations, an inheritance for you"), words and music by Bob Kilpatrick (© 1987, Bob Kilpatrick Ministries, assigned to Lorenz Publishing Company 1998). Psalm 28; Psalm 2:8.
  • "Let There Be Praise," words and music by Dick and Melodie Tunney (© 1985, BMG songs, Inc.). Reference to Psalm 22:6.
  • "My God, My God, I Cry to Thee," words: paraphrase author unknown, music: "Hebron," by Lowell Mason (1830)
  • "The Day of Thy Power," words and music by Jack W. Hayford (© 1976, Rocksmith Music). Psalm 110:3.
  • "Why Did the Nations Join to Slay," words: Isaac Watts (1719); music: "Manoah," arranged from Gioachino A. Rosini by Henry W. Greatorex (1851). Paraphrase of Psalm 2.


  1. See the appendix, "New Testament Quotations from the Psalms" (www.jesuswalk.com/psalms/psalms-NT-quotations.htm)
  2. Longman, How to Read the Psalms, pp. 67-68. But also see the discussion by Victor P. Hamilton (māshaḥ, TWOT #1255c) where he contends that some Old Testament passages cannot be understood as referring to merely some contemporary figure.
  3. See my articles, "Is Preaching Prophecy?", "The Purpose of Prophecy Today," and "Beginning to Prophesy," from Ralph F. Wilson, The Holy Spirit as the Agent of Renewal, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary (1984). www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/
  4. Victor P. Hamilton, māshaḥ, TWOT #1255c.
  5. Israel is referred to as "my son" in Exodus 4:22.
  6. In the Hebrew Hiphil stem yālad has a causative sense, "bear, beget." In our verse the word is used in the Qal stem, which may refer figuratively to a relation of love, according to R. Laird Harris, yālad, TWOT #867.
  7. See Ralph F. Wilson, Disciple Lessons from the Faith of Abraham (JesusWalk Bible Study Series, 2004), chapter 3, and Disciple Lessons from Hebrews (JesusWalk Bible Study Series, 2007), chapter 6.
  8. I have discussed Melchizedek extensively in my studies on Abraham and the Book of Hebrews.
  9. With the possible exception of Joshua the high priest, son of Jehozadak (Zechariah 6:11-13), who may also be a type of the Messiah, "the Branch."
  10. Craigie (Psalms 1-50, p. 202) cites Stanley Brice Frost, "Psalm 22: an Exposition," Canadian Journal of Theology 8 (1962) 102-115.
  11. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 105.
  12. Walter C. Kaiser, yāshab, TWOT #922.

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