BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
The Bible is a comprehensive book. It not only prepares believers for life after death but also prepares believers for life now. It talks about marriage, parenting, leadership, etc. In the Bible, we can learn many things from different Bible characters and from each book of the Bible.
In the book of Nehemiah, there are a number of leadership lessons that we can learn from Nehemiah, the major character of the book. That is the focus of this message. Moreover, it is very important to look at this subject because leadership is crucial to everything we do.
Everybody is a leader, one way or the other. Therefore, everybody should make efforts to improve on his leadership skills. Learning from other leaders, especially great leaders, is one way to improve one’s leadership.
I pray that as you read this message, God will deepen your insight into leadership, give you understanding and ultimately improve your leadership. What lessons can we learn from Nehemiah?
1.A leader must have intimacy with God, be a man of prayer, have trust in God and fear Him. Nehemiah depicted these attributes. Nehemiah had intimacy with God; he was a man of prayer. Immediately he heard the report that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles, he went to the Lord in prayer. That means that though he was an exile in Babylon, he was in touch with God; he still had a prayer life, and praying was the natural thing for him to do after hearing the sad news. “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: ‘I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments’” (Neh 1:4-5 NKJV).
In Nehemiah’s prayer, he asked God to prosper him and grant him mercy in the sight of King Artaxerxes (verse 11). God granted his request. Nehemiah demonstrated his trust in God by praying to Him. He trusted God to answer his prayer – that was why he prayed to Him. God granted his request and the king granted his request too. It takes trust in God to pray to Him.
He was a man of prayer. After highlighting his sacrifice and generosity as governor, he summed everything up by praying, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh 5:19 NKJV).
In addition, after narrating the conspiracy and subversion against him by some characters, he prayed: “My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid” (Neh 6:14 NKJV).
In Neh 13, Nehemiah talked about the reforms he implemented with regard to the temper, after which he prayed. “Remember this good deed, O my God, and do not forget all that I have faithfully done for the Temple of my God” (Neh 13:14 NLT). Similarly, after talking about his reforms towards ensuring the Sabbath Day is sanctified, he prayed. “Remember this good deed also, O my God! Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love” (Neh 13:22 NLT).
Nehemiah’s reforms also extended to marriage to foreign women with someone from the family of the high priest among the culprits. Nehemiah, a man of prayer prayed after dealing with this sinful deed. “Remember them, O my God, for they have defiled the priesthood and the promises and vows of the priests and Levites” (Neh 13:29 NLT). It is significant that the book of Nehemiah ends with this prayer by Nehemiah: “Remember this in my favor, O my God” (verse 13 NLT). That followed other reforms including purging everything foreign from priesthood and assigning tasks to the priests and Levites. A leader must learn to be prayerful like Nehemiah.
Nehemiah also had the fear of God. A leader must have the fear of God. God-fearing leaders always emerge as good leaders because they know they are not accountable to their followers only but also accountable to God. Nehemiah, comparing himself to the former governors, said, “But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (Neh 5:15 NKJV). Nehemiah didn’t allow his office to corrupt him. Many leaders are corrupted by their offices, but not Nehemiah. I’m still going to talk on this later.
2. A leader must know the word of God and obey it. Nehemiah showed himself as someone who knew the Word of God and understood that the Israelites were suffering because of their disobedience. He admitted that they had acted very corruptly against God, and had not kept His commandments, statutes, and ordinances which He commanded His servant Moses. He reminded God of the word He commanded Moses. “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name” (Neh 1:7-9 NKJV). If he had not learnt the scriptures, he wouldn’t have known what God told Moses enough to be quoting it. Paul said that Timothy was taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim 3:15).
Under his leadership in Jerusalem, Ezra read the Book of the law to the people, and after listening to the content, the people repented and promised to live in obedience to embrace a new way of life consistent with the Word of God (Neh 8, 9).
When a leader knows the Word of God and it does not depart from his mouth but he mediates upon it day and night to do according to what is written there, he’ll have good success and make his way prosperous (Joshua 1:8).
3. A leader must first be a good follower. Nehemiah demonstrated this in his service to his master, the king, in Babylon, as his personal cupbearer, and as the governor of Jerusalem.
Following the sad news about Jerusalem that Nehemiah heard and his prayer, he appeared before the king to perform his official duty as the wine server. Nehemiah remarked that he had never been sad before in the king’s presence – it was dangerous to appear before the king sorrowful and displease him. Nehemiah had always performed his duty cheerfully and satisfactorily but on that occasion, the king noticed a difference and said, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart” (Neh 2:2 NKJV).
He had served the king faithfully, and when it was time for him to lead the people, he led them well. If you’re faithful in handling small matters, you qualify yourself for more responsibilities (Matt 25:21, 23). “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones” (Luke 16:10 NLT). Verse 12 adds, “And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (NKJV) Nehemiah was faithful as a good follower. That was why the king could grant his requests and released him to go to Jerusalem for this assignment and return. He also released him to go back to Jerusalem the second time (Neh 13:6-7). Nehemiah excelled as a leader.
4. A leader must respond to the call to leadership. A leader must accept the challenge to lead. After Nehemiah had prayed (Neh 1:5-11), he perceived a call to go and build the wall of Jerusalem which had broken down and he answered the call. He didn’t ask God to send somebody else. “And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it’” (Neh 2:5 NKJV).
Nehemiah was a willing leader. Some people who should be in leadership are unwilling because they don’t want to leave their comfort zone; they don’t want to leave certainty for uncertainty. Nevertheless, Nehemiah wasn’t like that. He answered the call to leadership.
5. A leader must have passion for the work. Great leaders have passion for their pursuits. Passionate leaders don’t wait for anyone to beg them to pursue their causes. They don’t need anyone to drive them or motivate them to do what they consider to be the needful. Passion in a leader inspires him to take off and take on any challenge he meets on the way.
Passion in a leader is infectious – it rubs on the followers. Passion is like fire burning inside someone. Passionate leaders easily attract others to join them to achieve their vision.
Without passion, the obstacles in a leader’s way will easily discourage him. Nehemiah had passion for the work. This passion made him request for leave from his privileged position as the king’s cupbearer to go to Jerusalem to undertake the onerous task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem – the passion fired him up. He could have done nothing when he heard the bad report about the state of the wall; but passion propelled him to act.
Passion took him to Jerusalem and passion kept driving him to continue with the work there against all odds. That was why Nehemiah, reflecting on how he had conducted himself in getting the job done, said, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh 5:19 NKJV).
There were three other instances that he said a similar thing. In Neh 13:14, he said, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!” (NKJV) In verse 22 of this chapter, he said, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!” (NKJV) Finally, in verse 31, Nehemiah said, “Remember me, O my God, for good!” (NKJV)
Not all leaders could make this kind of declaration. A leader who is doing what is barely enough cannot dare to speak in this manner. Be a passionate leader who doesn’t spare his efforts; go the extra mile because of your devotion to the vision. John Maxwell said, “A great leader’s courage to fulfil his vision comes from passion, not position.”
6. A leader must be able to articulate his vision and communicate it, constantly and effectively, to the people to run with it. A leader must be able to mobilise his followers toward achieving the vision. There is no way the followers could pursue a vision of the leader that is not well articulated and clearly stated. “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (1 Cor 14:8a NKJV) The followers should not be in doubt of the vision the leader is trying to accomplish. The Bible says, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it” (Hab 2:2 NKJV).
Nehemiah first took time to study the situation on ground when he got to Jerusalem before he ever spoke to anybody. He didn’t cast a vision based on the report he had received before coming to Jerusalem. “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass. So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work” (Neh 2:11-16 NKJV).
After Nehemiah had done his personal investigation and evaluation of the true condition of the wall, he was able to property articulate, properly, his vision. He also communicated it, effectively, to the people to run with it. His vision was not based on hearsay. No wonder the people responded enthusiastically – they responded eagerly to a leader who understood what the problem was and exuded a charming confidence on how to fix it. “Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’ And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work” (verses 17-18 NKJV).
A leader must be able to effectively mobilize and consistently motivate his followers and keep them focused on the vision by constantly communicating the vision to them. He must be a team builder. Nehemiah did this effectively; thus, the rebuilding of the wall was done in a record time of 52days, despite the opposition (Neh 6:15).
See how Nehemiah mobilized and motivated the people to get the job done: “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’ And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.’ So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, ‘From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.’ Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses’” (Neh 4:10-14 NKJV).
That was not all that Nehemiah did to get the Job done. He was always ahead of the enemies in mobilizing and motivating the people to achieve their common goal of rebuilding the wall. Look at Neh 4:15-23: “And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work. So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’ So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, ‘Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.’ So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing” (NKJV).
If you want to be a leader that the people will follow, a leader that will command the people’s loyalty to him and his vision, you must have a very clear vision passionately and clearly communicated to the people. You must also have a vision that the people will believe is doable and not one that suggests they’re being taken on a suicide mission or they’re pursuing a mirage.
7. A leader must never be a soloist; He must be a conductor of an orchestra. He must work with people. He must delegate authority; he must share out the work. No leader will be effective as a lone ranger.
Nehemiah identified the critical stakeholders – the priests, the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people that did the work. He said, “And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work” (Neh 2:16 NKJV). No wonder they cooperated with him except the nobles of Tekoa. Neh 3:5 says the leaders or nobles of Tekoa refused to help though the people of Tekoa worked. There were also some disloyal nobles of Judah who were loyal to Tobiah and were exchanging letters with him (Neh 6:17).
When the wall was completed, the doors were hung in the gates and the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed, Nehemiah appointed two people, his brother, Hanani, and Hananiah, the commander of the fortress. He gave them the responsibility of governing Jerusalem. Nehemiah charged them, “Do not leave the gates open during the hottest part of the day. And while the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut and bar the doors. Appoint the residents of Jerusalem to act as guards, everyone on a regular watch. Some will serve at their regular posts and some in front of their own homes” (Neh 7:3 NLT). Nehemiah knew how to engage the people to get the job done; he knew how to recruit the right people.
8. A leader must recognize and acknowledge specific contributions of his followers towards the accomplishment of a vision or project. He must share credit for the success with his team. He must never personalize victory.
In Neh 3, Nehemiah took time to highlight the specific contributions of others from the high priest to the priests, individuals and families; he mentioned specific sections they built. He detailed what different people did; but Nehemiah’s name is missing. He gave the credit to the people. That was a great, secure leader.
In Neh 7:70-72, Nehemiah even mentioned the gifts of some of the family leaders, the governor, the other leaders, the rest of the people gave towards the project. He didn’t try to diminish their contributions to the success of the project, like some would have done.
9. A leader must possess courage to withstand opposition, criticisms, non-cooperation and subversion. This quality is necessary in order to get the job Samballat, Tobiah, and Geshem opposed the project of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and criticized it. Nevertheless, Nehemiah was undaunted. He withstood them. “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?’ So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem’” (Neh 2:19-20 NKJV). Did you see that?
However, the enemies didn’t give up. You must never give in to your enemies. You must never give up just because they haven’t given up. “But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish — stones that are burned?’ Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall’” (Neh 4:1-3 NKJV). Did you see how Sanballat and Tobiah derided the Jews and despised the project?
This did not discourage Nehemiah. What was Nehemiah’s response? He said, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders” (verses 4-5 NKJV). That was a good attitude. Courage in the face of opposition! And the narrative continues: “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (verse 6 NKJV). However, the enemies persisted. When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the other enemies heard that Nehemiah had rebuilt the wall, and there were no breaks left in it except the doors in the gates remaining to be hung, they changed their strategy.
Nehemiah was ahead of them in their game. Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to Nehemiah four times asking him to let them meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono though their plan was to harm him (Neh 6:2). But on all the occasions, Nehemiah sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Verse 3) The opposition did not intimidate Nehemiah. A leader shouldn’t.
Not satisfied, Sanballat and Geshem wrote a letter to blackmail him that the purpose of rebuilding the wall was so that he might be the king of the people of Judah. He accused him of leading a rebellion. Nehemiah dispelled this lie, and that did not allow them to have the upper hand.
Shemaiah represented subversion. He was hired by Tobiah and Samballat to give Nehemiah a false prophecy! He told Nehemiah to let them meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and close the doors of the temple because some people were coming to kill Nehemiah at night. It was a lie – a plot to discredit him. Shemaiah was a secret informer; God did not send him. Tobiah and Samballat hired him. Nehemiah wasn’t trapped by his false prophecy (Neh 6:10-13).
The prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets would also have made Nehemiah afraid thereby subverting the work (verse 14). But Nehemiah did not allow the enemies, who pretended to be friends, to intimidate him.
The nobles of Judah also represented subversion. They were exchanging letters with Tobiah, an enemy of the Jews, whom they had sworn allegiance to and kept speaking good about to Nehemiah while telling him everything Nehemiah said (Neh 6:17-19).
Nehemiah demonstrated courage to withstand all this and accomplished his mission. A leader must never surrender his vision to negative, uncooperative people.
10. A leader must possess strength of character to speak against evil and oppression and implement needed reforms. Nehemiah had to confront exploitations of the Jews by their fellow Jews and ensured this was redressed. He wasn’t afraid of the oppressors but defended the oppressed (Neh 5:1-13).
Nehemiah also confronted the evil perpetrated by Eliashib the priest, who, in Nehemiah’s absence, gave a chamber in the court of the house of God to Tobiah, an enemy of the Jews who tried to prevent the rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah sent him packing and commanded the cleansing of the chamber (Neh 13:4-9).
Nehemiah ensured the restoration of the portions of the Levites that had been stopped. He rebuked the rulers for allowing the house of God to be forsaken by the Levites and the singers because the people were not bringing their tithes. He restored this and all Judah brought the tithes of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. Nehemiah appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah, one of the Levites, in charge of the storerooms with Hanan son of Zaccur and grandson of Mattaniah as their assistant. These were men with excellent reputation. Their job was to make honest distributions to their fellow Levites (Neh 13:10-13).
One of the Ten Commandments God gave the Israelites was to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exo 20:8). Verses 9-11 says, “Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (NLT). Nehemiah restored the due observance of the Sabbath day (Neh 13:15-22).
He confronted the Jews who had married non –Jews in violation of the Word of God, and made them swear they would not allow their daughters or sons marry foreigners again in obedience to God’s command to the Israelites right from the beginning (Neh 13:23-28).
11. A leader must have integrity and be selfless. Leadership is service. Leadership is not for personal aggrandizement or self-gratification. Nehemiah was not after the perquisites of office. He served the people, selflessly, even using his personal resources and sacrificing his comfort, rights or entitlements.
In Jerusalem, Nehemiah didn’t allow the privileges of office to corrupt him. He didn’t take advantage of the people or exploit them. Nehemiah didn’t use his office, as governor, to enrich himself. Rather, he forfeited his rights, unlike the previous governors. He was not a burden on the people and did not acquire land for himself Instead, Nehemiah fed 150 leaders and officials at his table at his own expense. He refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people were already having a difficult time. “I would like to mention that for the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah – from the twentieth until the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes – neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance. This was quite a contrast to the former governors who had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides a pound of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because of my fear of God, I did not act that way. I devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my officials to spend time working on the wall. I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands! The provisions required at my expense for each day were one ox, six fat sheep, and a large number of domestic fowl. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people were already having a difficult time” (Neh 5:14-18 NLT).
What Nehemiah did is rare in contemporary leadership where abuse of power is rife, where people convert official properties to personal use and ownership, where leaders in government misapply and misappropriate state funds, where official corruption is the order of the day. Nehemiah is an example in selfless leadership. No avarice in his leadership. If a leader wasn’t stealing, his followers would learn to be above board.
In Neh 4:23, Nehemiah, his servants and the men of the guard that followed him didn’t remove their clothes for months! They laboured, and Nehemiah led the way.
12. A leader must oversee leaders under him and his followers. A leader must never assume that because he has given instructions, his followers will carry them out to the letter. He must not assume that because they all have made agreement and possibly even signed, they will act accordingly.
Nehemiah monitored and inspected the rebuilding of the wall. That’s why he could give all the details in Neh 3 about different people and the specific work they did. He knew who did what and those who didn’t cooperate.
Again, it was because Nehemiah monitored and inspected that he noticed all the violations and deviations in Neh 13:4-31 – Eliashib the priest, giving Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God, the stoppage of the portions (tithes) of the Levites, people working on the Sabbath and Israelites marrying foreigners. If he had not monitored and inspected, he wouldn’t have noticed these violations and deviations, and therefore not be able to carry out the reforms he implemented.
“So the people of Israel followed all of the LORD’s instructions to Moses. Moses inspected all their work and blessed them because it had been done as the LORD had commanded him” (Ex 39:42-43 NLT). A leader must never assume that his people are doing the right thing or doing things rights. He must inspect. What you expect will only be done if you inspect!
Conclusion: Now that you’ve learnt from Nehemiah, apply the principles and lessons to your life. Improve your life and improve on your leadership skills in serving God anywhere you are. The result will be more effectiveness and greater impact.
If you’re not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus. I urge you to take the following steps:*Admit you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start to attend a Bible-believing, Bible -teaching church. There you will be taught how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: “O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you Jesus for saving me and making me a child of God.”
I believe you’ve said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You’ll need to join a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church in your area where you’ll be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things becoming all God wants you to be.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
Phone No: +2348155744752, +2348033113523
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