September 11, 2022

Ecclesiastes: The Meaning of Life

Speaker: David Jordan Series: Journey Through the Bible Topic: Wisdom Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:1– 12:14

Download the Ecclesiastes Bible Journal Outline

Hopefully you got a Bible outline journal. For those of you who don't know, we have been going through a series, a “Journey Through the Bible” series, and each week preaching through an entire book of the Bible, all in one sermon. And today we have Ecclesiastes. So, turn to the book of Ecclesiastes, if you would. Let me pray for us as we begin.

Father, I pray that you would bless this time. I pray that you would open our hearts to hear your Word preached and declared. Lord, we believe in the Bible. We thank you for the truth that it proclaims. Today, it may be a little shocking at times. But I pray, dear Lord, that you would help us to receive and apply the great blessings of the truth of your Word. In your precious, holy Name. Amen.

Well, this book, in my opinion, was written by Solomon. I think you'd have a hard time considering that it was written by someone else. Though his name is not declared as the author. He is the Preacher, son of David [Ecclesiastes 1:1], in this book. It was written about the 10th century BC. And this book looks back on his life and evaluates his pursuits. As we come to this, I want to just try and walk you through something here as an illustration. The ocean is deep, and mysterious. And if you like documentaries, like I do, you've probably watched innumerable documentaries on what just can be found at the bottom of the ocean. Out of the depths of the ocean, rise large tame creatures, like the blue whale. And others, not so tame. Sometimes scary creatures rise out of the depths.

I remember being out on a wave runner, about a half a mile, quarter of a mile, somewhere in there – it's probably much further than that – but in reality, it was only a quarter of a mile out on a wave runner, and the thing flipped over and stalled. And my sister was with me and hers flipped over and stalled. And then we were both stuck. And there I pondered what was in the ocean more than I ever have before.

Sharks have fascinated me for a long time. They've obviously captivated the country since a certain set of films came out, but they're incredible creatures. For instance, like the bull shark, which can swim hundreds of miles up fresh rivers. Did you know that? I learned that after I moved away from the Mississippi, thankfully. The whale shark is the largest shark, it's very tame. The largest one ever recorded is 61 feet long. It would not fit side to side here, it would almost fill up the room. weighing over 40,000 pounds. It's like an 18-Wheeler swimming around. But yet you can pet it with your hands. It's incredibly docile. Of course, no conversation about sharks would be complete without mentioning the great white shark. The largest Great White ever recorded was about 20 feet long. Weighing about 4,500 pounds. That's like a mid-size SUV swimming at you with lots of teeth. And the biggest one is called Deep Blue. You can actually track it online and find out where it is if you're brave enough. When you go to the beach, I have this thing about looking up where these things are before I go in the water. But would you be scared to get near this large shark called Deep Blue? Not in a boat. Without a cage. Without professional divers. With nothing to defend yourself. Would you get within five feet of this tank with teeth? What if I told you that I'm scared of sharks but I would have no problem doing such a thing, so long as one condition would be met? That we were on land. Take the shark and put it on land. And I would go up to see, the backside of it (the shark), what it's like.

See context does actually change everything. I would be scared to see that large shark from a boat, smaller than a cruise liner, in the water. But put it on land and now everything changes. As we go through Ecclesiastes this morning, without the right context you're going to feel like we're just swimming around and this isn't making sense and this is a dangerous book. You might even think it doesn't have accurate truth in it. If you've read it recently, you can relate to some of the things that it says. But there is a context that helps us to understand everything that this book is talking about. And it makes it palatable. And, of course, I'm not going to tell you upfront what that is. You're going to have to try and figure it out as we read, and I'll let the cat out of the bag at the end of the sermon. But I want you to feel the full force of Ecclesiastes the way it is written.

So, what is Ecclesiastes all about? Well, it's about all of life, not just some of it. It's a summary of everything that Solomon did in his life and the conclusions that he came to after indulging in all of the things that he indulged in. It's basically about the desires of mankind. Man's greatest desires. If we had to boil all of our desires into one thing, what would you say that is? I think in 1776, they had a pretty good idea with the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our country was founded on the right, to be happy. And it seems the world is still stuck there. In fact, you may not be aware – although if you go to Patrick Henry, and you don't know this, you should. You probably can quote it – The Declaration of Independence actually states when any such government becomes destructive of such ends, the people have the right to alter or abolish that government and start over by laying a “foundation of safety, and happiness.” If the government goes against life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, our founding document says we can abolish the government. We better know what happiness is, or else… Well, we'll have what we have right now in our country, a bunch of craziness, right? And all kinds of ideas as to what should be going on and what that particular document says or doesn't say. Our country was founded on that principle of pursuing that as a right that we have, and it still drives us today. In pursuit of happiness.

I used to make TV commercials; every single commercial is about the same thing. It's to convince you that your life would be better with whatever they're selling. That's it. That's also sales in a nutshell, right? You need this. That's every commercial out there. We think of vacations and money in the same way, actually. If I just had a little bit more time on vacation, right, my life would be better. If I just had a little bit more money. Of course, you wouldn't raise your spending level, you would keep your spending level the same, right? That's the lie we tell ourselves. But if we had a little bit more money, life would be fine. Though we live in the wealthiest country in the world and the wealthiest county in the wealthiest country in the world, we still think these things, right? When my family lived in California, we moved around five times in 10 years looking for a better situation. We wanted to improve work, or our life in general, or our commute time, or the balance of all three of those things. So we kept moving from place to place and finally figured out there is no perfect place to live. But if the pursuit of happiness is indeed inherent to life and liberty, then where in the world is this happiness to be found? Well, Solomon answers that question.

Look at Ecclesiastes 1:1. There's a Bible under the seat nearby if you need one. “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” You can see why I think this is Solomon. [Ecclesiastes 1:2] “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” There's your happiness. Life is just vanity. Not the answer you were expecting? You might say, “Wait, wait a minute. You know, sometimes you take a verse out of context, and it's a pretext for a proof text.” You can catch up with that phrase later. It's like taking something out of context and make it mean whatever you want it to say. So, maybe he just starts off strong in this book. Well, let's skip a few verses. Go down to verse 12, Ecclesiastes 1:12-14, “I the Preacher,” that's the Qoheleth, that's a unique phrase used of this unique man, in Hebrew. “I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. [That's quite the task.] It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” All is vanity, again.

“That can't be right,” you say. “That can't be right. Maybe, maybe, Pastor Dave it’s because you use the ESV. And that must be wrong.” Well, let's, if you're over 50, let's just pull up everybody's favorite, the NIV, it says all is “meaningless.” Okay, that's not really any progress. If you're into studying the Old Testament, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is your go to, everything is “futile.” That's not much progress. And for those of you who like, more literal translations, the NASB, the New American Standard Bible, and the KJV, your favorite among favorites, says, “all is vanity.” We're not making much progress at this point.

But maybe it's just a Solomon thing. You think, “Well, maybe he's just focused. I mean, the guy did sin a lot.” As if it's not inspired. Right, there is that. But maybe it's just Solomon. So, what did David say? I'm just going to go through a few verses that other people besides Solomon said, and this understanding of what life actually is. Psalm 89:47, “Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man!” Well, what about maybe, Job, God called him a righteous man. What did he think about life? I mean, he had a lot of good things and he went through a trial and then he got double of everything he had before. Job 14:1, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.”

What if the father spoke directly to somebody? What would he say about life? Well, when he spoke to Adam, he said this [Genesis 3:17], “cursed is the ground because of you.” I mean, the dirt is cursed you're so bad, “in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” In pain. That's the start of humanity. You're welcome, for reading that to you this morning. How about Jesus himself? Because, well, what about this side of the cross were in the church age, no matter what you think about the end of the age, right? We're in there in the church age. So, what did Jesus, himself, the kindest person that ever lived have to say]? John 15, the world will hate and persecute you.

What about Paul? Romans 8:23, “but we ourselves… grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” So, Paul typifies life as groaning. What about the Apostle John, he wrote the last, maybe the thought has transitioned, right? We have progressive revelation, where we learn more and more about God, and we knew more about Jesus, you know, after his death, and after he lived, what does… this is our last hope, the Apostle John. 1 John 3:13, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” You will not escape, vanity. The world is vanity and full of trouble. I think, you can't make the case that Ecclesiastes says that message by itself. Unless you throw out Paul and Jesus and Job and King David and God the Father. I'm not sure why you read the Bible if you do that. But if you're feeling like we are just swimming with sharks around us now, and this is the most depressing message you think you're ever going to hear, then I think you need to remember that there is a context here. And without this context, maybe the message is in vain.

We do not need to throw out whole books of the Bible or parts of the Bible simply because they are difficult to read and understand. Critical scholars do that. They fuss over the language that was used. And Ecclesiastes is no different. It starts out in the first 12 verses with an introduction, you'll see that in your outline there. And then Ecclesiastes 1:13 - 6:12 is this personal review of his life. He talks about everything he's tried and gives you the conclusion of everything he's tried.

And then he switches from first person, you'll notice chapter two starts out with, “I said.” He keeps saying “I did this, I tried this.” And he just, like a diary, lays it out there for everybody. And then the end, seven [7:1] through the end of Ecclesiastes, he's giving instructions for those who come after him based on what he learned. So, he's looking back over his life.

So, we're just going to define one word today so that we can understand Ecclesiastes, as we jump into this. And that's the word “vanity.” It’s used 34 times in Scripture. All but three of those, I think, are in Ecclesiastes. And it's not like a vain image, like a puffed-up image. It's not that kind of, you know, vanity – like we love ourselves too much. It's not that. It means pointless or meaningless. Or a striving after the wind. It’s like trying to catch the wind.

The Preacher here, systematically, in Ecclesiastes, walks back through his life mentally to see what it has to offer and he tells us what he found. So starting in chapter two, verse one, what did he find? This is the first point. Solomon says this. In Ecclesiastes 2:1, “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.” Solomon goes through his life and he remembers all of the things that he tried, the things that you and I try. That when we ignore this, we keep coming to the conclusion he did. But he indulged in the pleasures of life. And in chapter two, he says he even indulged in laughter, right? We have comedy clubs. We like to laugh. We tell jokes. I love – the more dad-joke-like it is, the more I like it. The more you have to wince to laugh, I like those jokes.

He indulged in laughter, he indulged in wine, in materialism – he built houses and vineyards and gardens, and pools. He built pools just to water his trees. Like picture, the best kind of all-inclusive resort you can think of, and then just make that as big as, you know the surrounding area around Jerusalem. It was amazing to look at. He had slaves. It uses the word for slave, he had slaves. He had great herds and flocks. He had silver and gold and choirs and women. So, he had what America says to strive after: money, women, and power. Or for the women, men, to be in power, and to have just the love of your life and to be successful and to depend on no one. Solomon had all of that. He had the respect of other nations and leaders. He had more children than you can imagine. Look at Ecclesiastes 2:9. He says, as he thinks back of his life, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.” you can't say that he wasn't applying wisdom to his life. He was, he applied it for his own benefit. Verse 10, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.”

Now remember, we need to paint an accurate picture of who he was. Solomon's servants were happy. Remember when the Queen of Sheba came by and she said, “Your servants, they're all joyful, just to stand in your presence and to hear you talk all day.” That's basically what she said. They're happy. This was the boss you would want to work for. Right? So, his power didn't make his people miserable. Right, that's a misnomer that power corrupts in that way. Power simply brings out who you already are and gives you ways to express that that you didn't have before you had power. But it doesn't fundamentally ever change who you are, it simply just reveals what's inside.

So, you can say he was enjoyable to be around. He was successful. Our society is fascinated with successful people. When, no matter for good or for bad, for right or for wrong, we're fascinated with successful people. When any famous preacher speaks at a conference, it's normally full. Even bad preachers, like Osteen, who preaches the exact opposite of Ecclesiastes. Actually, it would be quite amusing for me to see him pick up this book and try and say anything out of this whole book of Ecclesiastes. Most people I, on the other hand, have ever spoken to at any one time, was probably at an evening service or Grace Community Church. No, I was not behind the pulpit, I was simply being baptized reading my testimony to about a thousand people or so. That's the most I've ever spoken to. Right or wrong, successful people draw a crowd. And the bigger the crowd, the more people come just to see what's going on.

I remember in California, the church I was at had to tear down two buildings and build a new one. And they were told by everybody who knows about church growth, and everybody who has done that before that you are going to have an influx of people just to see what the new building is about. You might seem successful if you're building a new building. So, when Solomon says he gave himself over to pleasure as the most successful person on the planet. The wisest one who's ever lived, outside of Christ our Lord. When he drank wine, it was the best wine. When he built a house, we call that a palace, and he walked on gold literally. He didn't even have the construction of his home or the temple, done on site so that he wouldn't be bothered by the noise. This was prefabbed to the nth degree. Though there was nothing like it.

In other words, when he indulged, you and I don't have the ability or the right to say that, “Yeah, but he didn't have what I have.” As if staring at your computer screen is somehow better than something Solomon had at his disposal. So, what did he get from all of these things? Look at Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Friends, some people spend their whole lives looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and we all look for it. There's no getting around it. We work so that we can have a house with a mortgage. And when you get done, you're like, oh, it's paid off. And yeah, you've paid, probably double that in interest. So, whatever your house is worth and whatever you’ve sold it for, unless you sell it for twice. If you've paid it off, you haven't gained a single dollar and we feel good about that. That's the American dream. Have you figured out the context yet? The context is important.

Well, he didn't just indulge in pleasure. And if that is you, you can see what Solomon, who was smarter than you and I, found out about that. But he also indulged in wisdom, in madness, and in folly. Look in chapter two, verse 13. And it seems there is maybe a strange glimmer of light like some hope here to be found, that maybe there is something better than something else in life. [Ecclesiastes 2:13] “Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” So, he does say that wisdom is better than folly and light better than darkness. But look in Ecclesiastes 2:15, “Then I said in my heart, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.”

What is he talking about? He means what he says, much wisdom brings much vanity. Why is he talking like that? What about work? We're all given to work. God told Adam to work in the garden. Right? That was even before the Fall, that must be a good thing. Look in Ecclesiastes 2:18, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” So, work too, in the end is vanity.

No matter how big or beautiful your house is, it is likely not to last. Now you may know the history of Virginia, it's an amazing history. It used to be dotted with just stone and timber barns. Lots of stone, inside with timber; just these beautiful barns all over the place, just farmers, everywhere, right. Unfortunately, the Civil War came along. And the Union Army figured out that these barns were a threat to their success because Confederates were using them to hide. So, the Union Army decided to burn all of them down. A prominent newspaper a few years ago wrote about this. It says “Several thousand Union soldiers raided Western Loudoun County and northern Fauquier County, from November 28 to December 2, 1864 in what has been called, ‘The Burning Raid.’ The destruction they wrought upon the civilization populace and farms was, for both counties, unmatched during the Civil War. Ruins of burned buildings remain today including Potts Mill, near Hillsboro [a few miles north of here], and Grubs Mill near Taylor's Town [within an hour's drive].” So, you can go, and you can see some of these beautiful barns. The stone parts are left, some of them, they're crumbling. Some even have doors left in them, but most of the top is burned away. The stone crumbles when it gets hot, and it's easy to destroy. And you can actually see those, but you can only see the ruins of what used to be so beautiful.

I mean, even Solomon's Temple didn't last. Right? I mean, do you really think you can make floors of gold and somebody is not going to come try and take it from you, eventually? So, the first point is, “All Things on Earth are Vanity.” We’re all super excited about that, right? Everything on Earth is vanity. But here we start to see a little bit of joy glimmering through. And no you're not going to be here for hours and hours this morning. He continues to go throughout the book, the same idea through everything in life. Everything he tries comes to the same conclusion. But a few things bring us joy while we're here, Ecclesiastes 2:24. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” Praise God, all of you, people who love to go out to eat, this is your verse. You should eat and drink. This is from the hand of God. Okay, so men, you can try that, the next time the misses wants to eat at home and save some money.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, look there with me. “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God's gift to man.” He also talks about in Ecclesiastes 5:19, that “God has given wealth and possessions and [to some] power to enjoy them” and that too is their lot in life. That is also a gift of God. It talks about in Ecclesiastes 9:9, to “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life.” But enjoy the wife whom you love, nonetheless, he says. Yes, that's one of my favorite. Men, do not ever quote that at home. You can come stay at my house if you do. So, he's replete with the same kind of movements, enjoy the toil in your vain life. Enjoy your money, enjoy your house, enjoy your marriage, enjoy all these things. Even in Ecclesiastes 11:9, enjoy your youth. Enjoy your youth. And he's not qualifying these things. And so, he's putting these things in tension with each other, for us to consider the weight of them. So, there are things that do temporarily bring joy in life.

But did Solomon truly pen this to be the most dreadful book of all times? What about chapter 12? Let's look at chapter 12. Look in Ecclesiastes 12:7-8, has he changed his mind yet? “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” But did you get the context yet? “and the dust returns to the earth as it was,” who was made out of the dust? Ladies, you should say, “Well, just the men.” Right? “Because I was made from man. Just the men.” No, everybody Scripture includes, we're all made from dust. Adam was made from dust, and you came from his dust. But we're all made from dust and it says, “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” We're all going to die. Death is the great equalizer in all of these things.

You can have the most amazing job ever. But there is no fountain of youth. No matter how many products you try, eventually, gravity wins. There's no fountain of youth, you can have the most amazing house and the most amazing neighborhood. You can have the greatest education you can get, the greatest education you can buy, but you're going to die. Why do we spend so much time, trying to make so much, out of such a little life? Why do we just pour ourselves into everything that we're doing in this life? I mean, we will go to extreme lengths just to be happy. Thankfully, we've kind of gotten rid of the idea that you need to travel the world and “find yourself.” As if there's a better you in the mountains on the other side of the globe. Or maybe you should go to the middle of Mongolia, right. Or something, to find yourself. But we've gotten rid of that to a point. But the dust is going to return to the dust. And your soul will return to God who gave it. The context will bring us up on the shore, with the bite of this passage. That death is the great equalizer in life. Death is the great equalizer. You leave everything to someone who comes after you. And if you don't get your paperwork right, the State gets to pick who that is. It's all through the book, Ecclesiastes 2:16, “the wise dies just like the fool!”

It's not just death, though. It's death than judgment. Look in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The end of the matter; all has been heard.” He's saying, “I've done everything. I've lived everything. I've had more money than you. I've had more wives than you. I've had more houses than you. I've had more pools than you. I've had more laughter than you. I’ve have had more wine than you.” “The end of the matter; all has been heard.” He has looked into everything that has been done under the sun. And he says this, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Fear God! Life without God is vanity! And there is a sense that even life with God is vanity because we all die. And so he's saying, “If this life is all you have then all you have is meaningless.” That's the context of the whole book. There is nothing you can find enjoyment in except maybe temporary enjoyment. He says, you know, the ear is always hearing but never full. The eye is always seeing but never full. Or there's always something else to see, always something else to do, another vacation to take, another this, or another that to have. And if you have enough money to buy a house and a car, you can buy a bigger house and car, or maybe two or three or four houses. Why travel with everyone else? Buy your own plane? And when that doesn't bring contentment, maybe buy yourself an island, I know have lost everybody. Because unless you're buying islands, let us know. But, right, there's always another level. There's always another level, there's always something else. Why? Because this life doesn't satisfy. No matter how good you are at what you do, this life doesn't satisfy.

When I left my first career, I heard multiple times, “Are you sure you want to do this? To become a pastor? Like, are you sure?” They're thinking, I should be satisfied with what I already had. But I wasn't fulfilling what I felt God was calling me to do. And if we're not fulfilling what God is calling us to do, then you have nothing. What shall we show God when we stand before him? Look at everything I did. That will amount to nothing. When you stand before a holy and righteous God. Right, without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Without faith, it's impossible to please God. It never says without lots of gold bars, you can't please God. It also doesn't say that if you give all your money away to the poor, that God will love you more. Or if you feed the homeless, or if you fix all of society's ills. Or if you put society back exactly the way God intended that that is what he wants. No. What does he desire from us? He desires a humble and contrite heart, one that is submissive to him, one that longs for him, one that says, “God, I have you what else could I have?” Scripture in Luke, if you gain the whole world and forfeit your soul, you've lost everything. What good is it if a man gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Answer: it's vanity.

It’s the same message that Ecclesiastes is bringing forward over and over and over again. And I just want to challenge you, where do you find happiness in life? What pragmatically needs to change so that you can be happy. I would put forward that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is an always ongoing event. Without Jesus Christ, there is no happiness. There is only temporary happiness or temporary joy, if you will. Without Jesus Christ being the center of your life, life will seem overwhelming, it will seem crushing. But living for Jesus, I mean, now that is where it's at. There is nothing better than living for Jesus Christ! Ephesians 1, “we are in him.” And in him we find our living and our breathing, we find our being. Everything is for him, and to him, and from him, and for him all things come together. In one day, all things will be under his feet.

It's pretty interesting to meet people who are super wealthy but it's really interesting to meet someone who's actually satisfied in life, content. And outside of Jesus Christ that is ever elusive. So, I don't know what you're pursuing in life. I don't know where you give your time and your energy and your thoughts. But beloved, you will stand before the judgment seat of God one day. And you need to be ready. And to get ready, you need to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. That he is Lord. And believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will, you will, be saved.

You see, Solomon was preaching. “I, the Preacher,” the end in chapter 12. My son, listen to these things. He's preaching. Romans 10:14, “how are they to hear without someone preaching?” And the message, beloved, is that life without God is vanity. Live for God, and God alone. Let's pray.

Father God, I just thank you for the mercy it is that you have had on us, that you wrote these things down so that we could see the end result, Lord God, of this time of folly that Solomon put himself through.

Lord, I pray that you would break the folly in our life, whether it's easy for others to see or whether we're really good at hiding it. For there is nothing covered that your eyes do not see and that you will not bring into judgment. Lord God, help us to live with great fervor and joy for you are King of kings and Lord of lords.

Dear friends, if you are here and you don't know Jesus Christ, if you have not confessed him as Lord and Savior, I pray that you do so now. That he may make you new by his grace. Nothing we could earn, but only of him. And for those who are saved, why don't we just take a moment right now and pray and ask God to keep us from vain pursuits?

Lord God, we love you. We need your courage and strength. We pray that with Paul, we could say, “It is not I but Christ who lives in me.” Lord, for your glory, and your glory alone. In your precious Holy Name, Amen.

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