Biblical Principles of Music
June 9, 2021
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following study is one chapter from The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music - The Book, which is available as a free eBook from


This is a study of what the Bible itself says about music. It is a study of every major passage that deals with music, with application to the New Testament church and modern times.

Churches need to train the people in music so well that they can test it by biblical standards. They must be able to discern such things as soft rock, honky-tonk, dance rhythms, chords as used in CCM, and worldly vocal styles.

It is not enough to publish a list of unacceptable music. Such lists are helpful, but any list will be obsolete in a short time. Further, no list is exhaustive.

The following principles from Scripture on the music issue are for the ongoing education of the entire church:

  1. Man was created with the ability to sing, and the chief purpose for this is the worship of God.
  2. The Bible is filled with references to music.
  3. The largest book of the Bible is a hymnbook.
  4. There was singing in the Old Testament temple.
  5. Christ’s kingdom will be a singing kingdom.
  6. Christ’s church is to be a singing church.
  7. Church music must be sung and played by Spirit-filled saints who are indwelt with God’s Word.
  8. Church music is for singing to one another and unto the Lord.
  9. Church music must be sound in doctrine (Col. 3:16).
  10. Church music must emphasize “melody” (Eph. 5:19).
  11. Church music must be sung from the heart.
  12. Music is not “neutral”; it is a language and the message of the music must match the message of the lyrics.
  13. Church music must be holy and separate from the world (Ro. 12:2; Eph. 4:17-19; 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 4:4; 1 Pe. 2:11; 1 Jo. 2:15-16).
  14. Church music must edify.
  15. Church music should be joyful.
  16. Church music must not borrow from and build bridges to the world of contemporary Christian music (Ro. 16:17-18; 1 Co. 10:21; 15:33; 2 Co. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11; 2 Ti. 3:5; Re. 18:4).
  17. Church music must not be designed to produce a charismatic style mystical experience (1 Peter 5:8).
  18. Church music must be skillful (1 Ch. 15:21, 22; Ps. 33:3).
  19. Church music must be unquestionably right and safe.
  20. Church music must guard against incrementalism (1 Co. 5:6; Ga. 5:9).
  21. Church music must aim for that which is excellent (Php. 1:10).
  22. God’s people should aim to learn to sing and play music.
  23. Pastors must oversee the church’s music.

1. Man was created with the ability to sing, and the chief purpose for this is the worship of God.

Man sings because he is made in God’s image. God gave man the equipment for singing (physical, intellectual, emotional). Consider the physical. The four main parts of voice production are as follows: The power source, which is the air excelled from the lungs. The vibrator, which is the larynx (voice box) that sits on top of the windpipe or trachea. It is an incredibly complex organ consisting of two folds (known also as vocal cords) that vibrate when air passes over them when activated by the individual. (When we aren’t speaking or singing, the air passes over the vocal folds without producing sound.) When activated, the vocal folds vibrate from 65 to 1300 times per second, being controlled by muscles in the larynx. The muscles of the larynx adjust the tension of the vocal folds to tune the pitch and tone. The resonator or vocal tract, which is the throat, mouth, cheeks, palate, nasal cavity, and nose. The articulators are the tongue, the lips, the hard and soft palate. (Source: “How the Voice Works,” American Academy of Otolaryngology.) “Together with the teeth and jaw, the lips, and the hard and soft palate, all more or less controllable by conscious intention, the flow of air, having come already vibrating from the larynx, is tuned to articulate speech and imbued with feeling from the opening, trembling or closing of the various sounding chambers of the nasal cavity, the sinuses, and even of the throat and chest. The fundamental tone is created by powerful wind blowing across and between warm, moist, moving, finely controlled membranes and cartilaginous surfaces in the voice box; but this sound is only the raw material that will be shaped again and again until it passes through the lips and nostrils” (Frederick Turner, “The Human Voice” Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2010).

According to Ingo Titze, director of the National Center for Voice and Speech at the University of Utah, it would be nearly impossible to create an instrument that could elongate and vibrate exactly the way human vocal cords do (“15 Throaty Facts about Vocal Cords,”
Mental Floss, Nov. 15, 2016).

The range of the human voice is vast. The loudest recorded human voice is Jill Drake, a teaching assistant who lives in England. Her scream is 129 dBA, equivalent to an AC/DC concert. The lowest note ever sung was G(-7) by Tom Storms, eight octaves below the lowest G on a piano. Storms also holds the record for the widest range, a full 10 octaves, more than 3 times the average singer’s range of 3 octaves.

The human voice can express every human emotion. “The tone of the human voice may be modulated in various ways to express our emotions such as joy, happiness, anger, sadness and surprise” (“Amazing Facts about the Human Voice,” Sep. 7, 2015,

The first purpose of man’s singing ability is to worship God, because this is man’s chief reason for existence. The first commandment is “thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (De. 6:5). Man is commanded to sing praises unto God. “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:7).

Men have corrupted God’s gifts and used them for their own selfish, wicked purposes, with no thought for God’s glory. But in redemption, through the blood of Christ, the fallen sinner is restored to his place as God’s son and can live for the glory of God.

Christ, the perfect man, the last Adam, sings. Zephaniah prophesies of Jehovah God singing with joy over redeemed Israel. “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee
is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zep. 3:17). We know that this refers to Christ. The writer of Hebrews cites Psalm 22:25 and applies it to Christ singing praises in the midst of the church. Imagine the Son of God singing to the Father and to His people! He is the one who invented song and created the marvelous human voice. Pavarotti has been called “the voice of the ages,” but surely, Jesus is the true Voice of the Ages, the Singer of singers! He will sing in His glory as the eternal Son of God.

Christ is the example for every redeemed saint.

2. The Bible is filled with references to music.

It should be obvious from the following study that music is no small issue in Scripture:
  • Satan is mentioned in connection with musical instruments before his fall (Eze. 28:12-14).
  • The angels sang together at the creation (Job 38:7).
  • Cain’s offspring made musical instruments (Ge. 4:21).
  • Moses and Israel sang in the wilderness (Ex. 15:1-21; Nu. 21:17).
  • Israel made worldly music when they committed idolatry and immorality (Ex. 32:4-6, 17-19, 25).
  • Deborah and Barak sang at the downfall of Sisera (Ju. 5:1-31).
  • The Levites were organized to sing and make music in praise to God. See 1 Ch. 15:16-28; 16:4-42; 23:3-6, 27-30; 25:1-8; 2 Ch. 5:12-13; 20:19-28; 23:13; 29:25-28; 31:2; 35:15, 25; Ezr. 2:64; 3:10-11; Ne. 12:42-47.
  • The Psalms contain 150 musical psalms to God.
  • The wicked make music to entertain themselves in their rebellion to God (Job 21:12-14) and in connection with moral debauchery (Is. 5:11-12; 24:8-9; Am. 6:5-6).
  • Israel sang when God fought against Moab and Ammon (2 Ch. 20:1423). David sang to comfort Saul (1 Sa. 16:15, 16, 23).
  • The Israelite women sang at the return of the armies from battle (1 Sa. 18:6-7).
  • David made many musical instruments and organized music for the worship of God (1 Ch. 23:5; 2 Ch. 7:6; 29:26; Am. 6:5)
  • Solomon made musical instruments (1 Ki. 10:12; 2 Ch. 9:11; Ec. 2:8).
  • There are songs of fools (Ec. 7:5).
  • Israel sang at the coronation of Solomon (1 Ki. 1:39-40).
  • Israel sang at the coronation of Joash (2 Ch. 23:12-13).
  • Nebuchadnezzar required music to be played at his idolatrous festival (Da. 3:4-16).
  • Israel sang at the rededication of the temple by Hezekiah (2 Ch. 29:20-36).
  • Israel sang at the dedication of the rebuilt temple (Ezr. 3:10-11).
  • Israel sang at the dedication of the rebuilt wall in Jerusalem (Ne. 12:42-47).
  • Jesus sang with his disciples (Mk. 14:26; He. 2:12).
  • The churches are commanded to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
  • Paul and Silas sang praises to God in the jail (Ac. 16:25).
  • The earth will break forth in singing during the Millennium (Is. 14:7).
  • The end-time Babylonian world system loves music (Eze. 26:13; Re. 18:22).
  • There is singing in heaven (Re. 5:8-10; 14:2-3; 15:2-3).
Miscellaneous other references to music in the O.T. - Ge. 31:27; Ju. 11:34; 2 Sa. 19:35; Job 30:31; Pr. 29:6; Is. 5:12; 12:5; 14:7; 16:10; 23:16; 30:29-32; 44:23; Eze. 26:13; 33:32; 40:44; 8:10; Hab. 3:19.

3. The largest book of the Bible is a hymnbook.

God gave a perfect hymnbook through Israel, His chosen nation. Since the largest book in the Bible is a songbook, we see the importance of sacred music before God. Psalms is infinite in its teaching. It is a whole world of revelation.

The name of the book in Hebrew is
te’hillim (songs of praises). In Hebrew, the individual psalms are called miz’mor, meaning melody of praise. Psalmos (Psalms) is what the book is called in the New Testament (Lu. 20:42; 24:44; Ac. 1:20; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13). Psalmos is from psallo, which refers to touching or plucking the strings of a harp.

There are 150 hymns that deal with all facets of God’s character and every aspect of human experience and man’s relationship with God. William Law said, “Singing psalms awakes all that is good and holy within you, calling your spirits to their proper duty, setting you in your best posture toward heaven, and tuning all the powers of your soul to worship and adoration.”

The Psalms were sung by Israel (Ps. 66:8). Israel invented special musical instruments for singing the Psalms (2 Ch. 7:6)

The Psalms were sung by Protestants. A metrical Psalter is an edition of the Psalms meant to be sung. The Psalms are translated and adapted in such a way that they can be sung to one or more meters or tunes. The premillennialist Isaac Watts (1674-1748) published the most influential English psalter (1719). He is known as “the father of English hymnology.” He spent 19 years producing his Psalter and wrote another 697 hymns. Watts was a pioneer in adapting the Psalms so that New Testament truth is incorporated. He wrote,

“Far be it from my thoughts to lay aside the Book of Psalms in public worship. ... But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand lines in it which were not made for a Church in our Days, to assume as its own. There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory, which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied to the Writings of the New Testament. ... You will also find in this Paraphrase dark expressions enlightened, and the Levitical ceremonies and Hebrew forms of speech changed into the Worship of the Gospel, and explained in the language of our time and nation” (Preface, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707).

He also said,

“I have not been so curious and exact in striving everywhere to express the ancient sense and meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity. And by this means perhaps I have sometimes hit upon the true Intent of the Spirit of God in those verses farther and clearer than David himself could ever discover, as St. Peter encourages me to hope, 1 Pet. 1:11, 12” (Preface. The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, 1719).

Watts’ Psalter, with its five meters (tunes), is an example of singing hymns to simple melodies (“making melody,” Eph. 5:19).

Psalm 1 (sung to the Common Meter - “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past”)

1. Blest is the man who shuns the place
Where sinners love to meet;
Who fears to tread their wicked ways,
And hates the scoffer’s seat;

2. But in the statutes of the Lord
Hath placed his chief delight;
By day he reads or hears the Word,
And meditates by night.

3. He like a plant of gen’rous kind,
By living waters set,
Safe from the storms and blasting wind,
Enjoys a peaceful state.

4. Green as the leaf and ever fair
Shall his profession shine,
While fruits of holiness appear
Like cluster on the vine.

5. Not so the impious and unjust;
What vain designs they form!
Their hopes are blown away like dust,
Or chaff before the storm.

6. Sinners in judgment shall not stand
Amongst the sons of grace,
When Christ the Judge, at His right hand
Appoints His saints a place.

7. His eye beholds the path they tread.
His heart approves it well;
But crooked ways of sinners lead
Down to the gates of hell.

The Psalms were sung by some Baptists. Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle hymnbook of 1866 contained Watts’ Psalter, in addition to other hymns. The 1991 edition of Metropolitan Tabernacle’s Psalms & Hymns of Reformed Worship has selections from Watts, Charles Wesley, Henry Lyte, Philip Doddridge, Nahum Tate, and others. The tunes are published in a separate music edition.

An edition of the Scottish Psalter is published by the Free Church of Scotland. It includes 193 tunes, and each Psalm can be sung to three or more tunes.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America publishes a Psalter that includes the musical notations together with the lyrics.

4. There was singing in the Old Testament Temple.

(This study is also repeated in the chapter “Song Leading and Congregational Singing” in The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music - The Book,

David organized the music worship program for the Tabernacle. This began on the occasion of bringing the ark of God from Kirjathjearim to Jerusalem (1 Ch. 15:1-24). After the ark was set in a tent in Jerusalem, David appointed a continual music program (1 Ch. 16:1-7, 37-42). When David was old, in connection with the charge to Solomon about the building of the Temple, he further organized the Levitical music program, assigning 4,000 priests to this task (1 Ch. 23:1-5; 25:1-31). He did this by divine revelation (2 Ch. 28:11-13).

Suddenly the Tabernacle was filled with holy worship music. There had been no such thing from the time of Moses until David. The divine Tabernacle service is described in Exodus and Leviticus, and there is no music. There were no Levites appointed to music. There was no hymnal.

With David, a new era begins. We are moving further along now toward the coming of Christ! David is promised an eternal throne and kingdom, ruled by his Son, who is Christ (2 Sa. 7:12-16).

In a foreview of that glorious kingdom, David begins to write the Messianic hymnal. The last five psalms of the hymnal explode with Messianic praise. “Praise” is mentioned here 50 times. These psalms are about “an everlasting kingdom” (Ps. 145:13; 146:13). The words “for ever” and “everlasting” and “all generations” appear nine times. These psalms prophesy of the time when the LORD will “build up Jerusalem” and strengthen the bars of her gates and “gather together the outcasts of Israel” and make peace within her borders and fill her with the finest of wheat (Ps. 147:2, 13, 14). Then the entire universe with praise the LORD, the angels, the sun and moon and stars, the heavens and the earth, the mountains and hills and trees, the beasts and flying fowl, the kings, the princes, the judges, the young men and maidens, old men and children (Ps. 148:1-13). Then the Lord’s people will execute vengeance upon the heathen (Ps. 149:6-9). Then the LORD will be praised with the sound of the trumpet, the psaltery and harp, the timbrel and dance, the stringed instruments and organs, the loud cymbals and the high sounding cymbals (Ps. 150:3-5). Then everything that has breath will praise the LORD (Ps. 150:6)!

In 2 Ch. 5:12-13, we see the music ministry operating full blown in Solomon’s Temple.

“Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD.”

All of these passages contain instruction for the churches. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning...” (Ro. 15:4).

This does not mean that we are to construct grand buildings and have magnificent professional choirs and orchestras like the Mormon Tabernacle. The New Testament church is a pilgrim church. We live in tents, so to speak, like Abraham. We are composed of the weak things of the world rather than the noble (1 Co. 1:26-29). We are ever waiting and ready for the call, “Come up hither” (1 Th. 1:9-10). We are not laying up treasures on earth, but in heaven (Mt. 6:19-21). Our affection is not on earth; it is in heaven where our Saviour resides (Col. 3:1-4).

But there are important lessons from the Temple music service for New Testament churches. Following are some of them:

The instruments were harps, psalteries, cymbals, trumpets and cornets (1 Ch. 15:16, 28). Though some churches don’t believe in using music instruments, it is obvious that God loves sacred worship music that incorporates instruments. There should never have been a debate about this in churches; the Psalms are not just for the Mosaic era. Today the church is the house of God and the things in the Old Testament are our example (Ro. 15:4). We are specifically instructed to sing Psalms, which takes us right back to the Psalms and the instruments mentioned therein. Observe that these are not the type of instruments used to create worldly dance music. There were no drums, for example. (Drums can be used properly in sacred music, such as in the timpani section of an orchestra, but drums as used in pop music to emphasize the dance back rhythm are not sacred.) Cymbals are percussion instruments, but there can be no doubt that when used in the Temple worship, they were not continually banged together to create a discordant racket. That would be more in keeping with Babylonian music. The cymbals were not used as in a rock band. The instruments mentioned in 1 Chronicles 15:28 were used in accompaniment to the singing of the priests, so it is obvious that they were used in moderation so as not to drown out or overwhelm the voices.

The singers and musicians were skillful (“excel,” 1 Ch. 15:21; “skilful,” 1 Ch. 15:22; “cunning,” 1 Ch. 25:7). One qualification for ministry is ability. When God calls an individual to a ministry, he gifts and equips him for that ministry. For example, the elder must be apt to teach and must be able to exhort and convince false teachers (1 Ti. 3:2; Titus 1:9). If a man cannot do this work, he is not called to be an elder.

They excelled (1 Ch. 15:21). They wanted everything to be as perfect as possible; mediocrity was unacceptable. Anything we do for the Lord should be done right, with the highest level of expertise and preparation that we can produce. He is most worthy of our very best. God’s people need to be getting better educated, stronger in every area, moving in the opposite direction of most churches. This is the path of victory and revival.

They were trained (1 Ch. 25:7). Churches should do everything they can to provide training for their singers and musicians to the glory of the Creator. It is one thing to be untrained and ignorant, but it is quite another thing to be content to remain untrained and to offer unto God something less than our best. Every church must be a serious Bible training institute.

They were well organized; there was oversight; they submitted to God’s order and to the authority figures God had put over them; they were assigned their places (1 Ch. 15:17, 19; 25:2, 6). The lot was used (1 Ch. 25:8) so that God’s will would be done in the appointment of the singers and musicians and so that no favoritism would be exercised by the leaders. The lot was used to determine God’s mind. There is no place for jealousy and carnality and favoritism in the church’s music ministry. All things should be done by the mind of God and for the glory of God rather than for man. Compare 1 Co. 12:7. We don’t need to use the lot today, because we have the indwelling Spirit and the complete Word of God. Submission to God-ordained authority is the way of peace in the congregation (1 Th. 5:12-13).

The music was a ministry of the priests (1 Ch. 15:16). Compare 1 Pe. 2:5, which teaches that the church is “an holy priesthood.”

They sang and played with enthusiasm and joy (1 Ch. 15:16). God’s people should follow this example in the churches, and the music leaders should teach and encourage it. I believe that congregational singing is a reflection of a church’s spiritual character. Many of the Lord’s people do not sing or sing so softly that no one can hear them, but the song service is not about me and whether or not I feel like singing or whether I like to sing, and it’s not a time to be entertained. It is about singing to God and edifying one another, and it should be done with exuberance.

They prophesied (1 Ch. 25:1-3). Compare 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 which says that all the saints should prophesy. This doesn’t mean that every member preaches. Paul limited the actual prophesying or preaching to two or three (1 Co. 14:29). 1 Corinthians 14:3 says prophesying is speaking “unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” Any of that is prophesying. For all to prophesy means that every believer participates in and responds to every part of the service from the heart: to the singing and playing, to the preaching and teaching, even to the corporate prayer. I like the practice I have seen in Korean Baptist churches. During public prayer, as one brother is leading, the brethren say a loud “amen” after every statement. This is prophesying! This is unity in corporate prayer. When visitors see that the members are enthusiastically involved in the services, they understand that the brethren really do believe in Christ, and they are convicted of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They sang God’s Words (1 Ch. 25:5). Compare Colossians 3:16. Worship must be based solidly upon Scripture; it must not be heretical or frivolous or shallow. The first test of Christian music is the test of whether its message is Scriptural. Worship music should flow from lives that are filled richly with God’s Word, and from lives that understand the Word and practice its precepts wisely in daily living. This is what creates a spiritual song service. Yet in my experience, the average member of Bible-believing churches is ignorant of God’s Word and doesn’t have the wisdom to apply it to daily living. No wonder our services are so lukewarm.

They gave thanksgiving to God (1 Ch. 25:3). This is the first and foremost purpose of the Christian life and church. There are two kinds of spiritual songs: those that teach and edify the brethren and those that praise the Lord (Col. 3:16). The churches need to make sure that they sing hymns of worship and not only songs for the edification of the saints. True worship is not a rock & roll dance party; it is not a performance. True worship is glorifying God with the mind and heart for His attributes and character and works. See Psalm 100. True worship is to give thanks to God (Heb. 13:15).

They sang in unity (“the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard,” 2 Ch. 5:12-13). The singing and playing were one voice. It was harmonious rather than discordant. It was not a bunch of individuals doing as they pleased. Every individual was submitted to the Lord and to one another and to the leadership as one body.

Whenever there was a revival in Israel, the Temple music “program” was revived. We see this in the days of Hezekiah.

“And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped” (2 Ch. 29:25-30).

There were rooms in the Temple for the singers and instruments. In Herod’s temple, they were located below the Nicanor Gate that led from the Court of the Women to the place of the sacrificial altar before the Temple proper. In front of the Nicanor Gate was a series of semi-circular steps and a platform on which the singing priests presented themselves.

In ancient Israel, when she was right with God, the music associated with worship was carefully prepared and skillfully performed with godly oversight.

All too often a church’s song service is led by individuals who know almost nothing about what they are doing, who lack the skill, enthusiasm, and spirituality to do a good job and aren’t interested in getting a proper education to improve their ministries.

No wonder many are tempted to move to a church that has an enthusiastic contemporary worship service. No wonder young people often think of church as dull. I received an email recently from a woman who informed me that her family left an independent Baptist church that was lifeless and that they are now happy members of a lively, contemporary Southern Baptist congregation. That’s too bad, but I wonder how many people have turned away from the truth because it was presented in a lifeless, incredibly boring manner!

A doctrinally sound church that is dull, half-hearted, half-dead, and mediocre does not glorify the Lord. God’s people are instructed to do everything
heartily (“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men,” Col. 3:23).

If a church is half-hearted and boring, it is not a true NT church, because Jesus Christ and the Bible are the most exciting “things” on earth!

If a church is young and the congregation small, it is understandable that there might not be proper musicians and song leaders. No one expects a young church to have everything that a more established church has. Under such conditions, the church must do the best it can with what it has and beseech God for growth. We are referring here to churches that
could do better in this matter but don’t simply because it is not a priority. They are content with mediocrity and dullness.

We need to be getting better educated, stronger in every area, moving in the opposite direction of most churches, which is weaker, less cautious, more ignorant. To get stronger is the path of continual revival.

To read the remainder of this chapter please read from the book here:

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