Evil Spirits (Demons) — What Are They? What’s Their Purpose?
Fallen angels refer to the angels that fell from Heaven after their failed coup. These disgraced angels are one-and-the-same as evil spirits, which are demons, as witnessed here:
… GENERIC Soma ~ Soma UPS COD Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.
saturday delivery on soma Luke 8:1-3
As you can see, fallen angels are described as Soma overnight no consult fast delivery evil spirits. The Greek word for “evil” is ponéros (pon-ay-ROSS), meaning “bad, wicked, malicious.” This shows that evil spirits are the opposite of heavenly angels, which are good spirits. The latter function in submission to the LORD and therefore serve people (Hebrews 1:14) whereas evil spirits are “bad” and so do the precise opposite—they seek to hurt people one way or another. This is in line with their leader’s mandate “to kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10).
Speaking of their leader, Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and so his wicked minions constantly try to deceive people. Take ‘ghosts,’ for example, which are supposedly the disembodied souls of the dead stuck on this plane and haunting a particular environment. Isn’t it possible or even likely that this type of paranormal phenomena is the deceptive activity of demons?
Unclean (Filthy) Spirits
Evil spirits are also referred to as unclean or impure spirits:
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
The Greek word for “impure” here is akathartos (ak-ATH-ar-tos), which simply means unclean or impure. It reveals that evil spirits are filthy. This makes sense in light of the fact that ‘holy’ refers to absolute purity, the natural result of being separated unto God. The LORD is absolutely pure—holy—and so anyone consecrated unto Him must be pure. Thus anyone who rejects the Almighty and is cast from his presence becomes the opposite—unholy, impure. Since you can’t get further from God than the irredeemable fallen angels, they’re utterly unholy—unclean, impure, filthy.
Being filthy, there’s a stench to unclean spirits in the spirit realm. This explains why one spiritually-sensitive minister said he could always recognize someone who was walking in sexual perversion, like homosexuality, when they came up for prayer at his meetings. He said there was a foul odor in the spirit.
One of my relatives married a wicked witch (seriously) and she wasted no time in getting her new husband to totally separate from his family. My nephew met her when he was a child and he kept curiously asking “What’s that smell? Something stinks!” He was just a little kid at the time and said the odor smelled like vomit. No one present knew what he was talking about, so he was obviously picking something up in the spirit. Children are more sensitive to the spiritual realm and are therefore apt to pick up things that hardened adults can no longer perceive. Consider the typical scenario where kids think there’s a “monster” under the bed or in the closet. Is it simply their imagination or are they picking up an evil spirit in the vicinity?
All this explains why the Bible instructs us:
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
While believers are born holy in their spirits when they receive spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5), practical holiness only occurs as you learn to put off your flesh—the “old self ”—and live according to your new righteous nature—the “new self ”—with the help of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is what theologians refer to as the process of sanctification—purification—and part of this process includes doing what James instructed: “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.”
How does this tie-in to our topic? Simple: Impure spirits are naturally attracted to that which is morally impure. Just as flies are attracted to dog doo-doo and rats are drawn to garbage, so filthy spirits are attracted to that which is morally filthy. So get rid of all moral filth and you’ll stop attracting filthy spirits! It’s just common sense.
Getting back to Luke 8:1-3, notice what verse 2 says:
…some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;
Some women were cured of evils spirits through Christ’s ministry and one of these was Mary Magdalene, who was exorcized of seven demons. This shows that…
Evil Spirits are Demons
Evil spirits are one-and-the-same as demons. We see this above and also in Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed man in the region of Gerasenes (JAIR-ah-seens). The man is described in Scripture as being possessed by multiple evil spirits that spoke to Jesus through him:
The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs.
This is further evidence that demons are synonymous with filthy spirits.
I said earlier that evil spirits are fallen angels. While I think this is obvious, some people have brought this into question with highly creative (to be nice) alternative views. In order to prove that evils spirits are fallen angels let’s first establish that…
Satan was a “Cherub” who Fell from Heaven
Jesus said he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). This monumental event is chronicled in the Old Testament using the kings of Babylon and Tyre as types (Isaiah 14:12 & Ezekiel 28:12-17). The passage in Ezekiel shows that Satan was once a “cherub,” an angel (28:14,16).
The New Testament offers a fascinating flashback to Satan’s fall from Heaven:
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth…
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
This prophecy is actually a double reference and therefore has two applications: It refers to the devil’s last gasp attempt to conquer Heaven during the mid-point of the future seven-year Tribulation (Revelation 6-19), but it’s also a flashback to his original fall. Verse 4 figuratively indicates that a third of the angels fell with the devil—the “red dragon”—to the Earth. Keep in mind that “stars” are a metaphorical reference to angels (Job 38:7).
The notion that this passage is a “double reference” is in line with the law of double reference, which is the tendency of biblical prophecies to have two applications—one relevant to the general time of the prophecy and another far-flung, whether the distant future or past.
By the way, the fact that the devil & his filthy spirits again attempt to conquer Heaven shows that they’re hopelessly incorrigible. They never learn from their mistakes. It’s reminiscent of the saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over & over again expecting different results.” If this is accurate, Satan & his minions are decidedly insane.
The Devil & His Angels Dwell in the Underworld
So Satan is described as a cherub—an angel—who was kicked out of Heaven, along with a third of the subordinate angels who rebelled with him.
Jesus said that the lake of fire was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) as their eternal tormenting prison, but they currently roam the Earth, not in the physical realm, but the spiritual:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The “spiritual forces of evil” dwell in “the heavenly realms.” This refers to the Underworld, which is the dark spiritual dimension that underpins the Earth & Universe (Philippians 2:9-11 & Revelation 5:2-3). This is where the devil & his fallen angels operate. They don’t dwell in hell because the lake of fire is hell and no one has been cast there yet. They inhabit the dark realm of the Underworld and operate from this plane—“roaming the earth, going back and forth in it,” as Satan put it (Job 1:7 & 2:2). This explains something Peter said:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8
All this biblical data helps us conclude with confidence that demons or evil spirits are fallen angels.
Addressing an Alternative View
Some people have challenged this by suggesting that evil spirits are the spirits of a mysterious “pre-Adamic” race who were wiped out in a worldwide flood that occurred sometime between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
The reason such people argue that demons aren’t fallen angels is because of two New Testament verses which show that fallen angels are imprisoned in tartaroó (tar-tar-OH), awaiting judgment from God (2 Peter 2:4 & Jude 1:6). However, these passages don’t refer to all fallen angels because, after all, the chief fallen angel, Satan, is still roaming about (1 Peter 5:8).
The idea that demons are the spirits of some ambiguous “pre-Adamic race” is creative, to be nice. The small number of people who embrace this odd theory are gap theorists who suggest that Satan ruled nations of a pre-Adamic race—a race that they won’t call human because the Bible clearly refers to Adam as the “first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45,47). If they weren’t actually human, then what exactly were they? Sasquatches maybe? Cha-Ka’s cousins perhaps? (I’m being humorous, of course). Whatever the case, this issue is addressed here (scroll down to the section A Pre-Adamic Race?).*
* For an honest biblical evaluation of the dubious pre-Adamic race doctrine see this article.
Hierarchies and Territories of Evil Spirits
Returning to Ephesians 6:12, notice what the text says about fallen angels:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The “spiritual forces of evil” are comprised of three different categories—“the rulers,” “the authorities” and “the powers.” This reveals a hierarchy in the spiritual realm with the devil as the wicked despot of his dark kingdom with “rulers,” “authorities” and “powers” under his command.
These demonic authorities are assigned regions on Earth in which they negatively influence political powers and the corresponding populace. For instance, in Daniel we observe “the prince of Persia” and “the prince of Greece,” both demonic authorities consigned to these areas (Daniel 10:13,20). Additional evidence can be observed when a conglomerate of demons named “Legion” begged the Mighty Christ not to send them out of the region (Mark 5:10). Why? Obviously because it was their assigned territory, their ‘home.’ Also, the glorified Lord said Pergamum was where Satan’s throne was located (Revelation 2:13).
This data corresponds to the fact that the devil is “the god of this world” and thus “the whole world is under the control” of the kingdom of darkness to one degree or another (2 Corinthians 4:4 & 1 John 5:19). Some places, like Pergamum in the 1st century, are subject to greater satanic control than others. San Francisco, Hollywood and New York City are prime examples in modern America.
Why Do Demons Desire to Possess People (and Sometimes Even Animals)?
Evil spirits seek to possess men & women in order to operate more concretely in the physical realm. Being spiritual in nature, they’re limited to the spiritual plane and only operate in the physical realm in an indirect manner, unless they can totally take possession of a person, which they can only do with the person’s consent, conscious or subconscious (we’ll address this shortly). This explains why they seek to possess people.
The afore-cited Mark 5:12-13 shows that demons sometimes even seek to possess animals, but they can only do this with authorization from the Sovereign LORD. Why do they need Christ’s permission? Obviously because animals lack the ability to grant or reject consent.
That said, Genesis 6:1-4 shows that demons have the power to operate in the physical realm in a more direct manner. On this occasion fallen angels—the “sons of God”—copulated with women, which gave birth to people with demonically tainted DNA. God considered this a great transgression and so imprisoned these evil spirits in tartaroó to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4 & Jude 1:6). As such, the rest of the fallen angels presumably have never again sinned in this manner and, therefore, the height of their manifestation in the physical realm is through possession of a person or animal.
For more on the nature of these “sons of God” from Genesis 6:1-4 and their earthly offspring, as well as and why some fallen angels were imprisoned in tartaroó go here.
Keep in mind that evil spirits naturally hate human beings because:
- People are created in the image of God.
- Angels lack the privilege and position granted redeemed people; that is, being co-heirs with Christ and thus seated with Him at the right hand of the Father in a positional sense (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 1:13 & Ephesians 2:6).
- Unlike them, people are redeemable. (Fallen angels are irredeemable because they had full knowledge of the consequences of their rebellion whereas Adam & Eve did not. This is covered in this article and this one).
- Angels are commissioned to serve people, and since arrogant angels didn’t want to do this they rebelled, which resulted in their ouster from Heaven.
The Prime Directive of Evil Spirits
As noted earlier, Christ encountered a man in the area of the Gerasenes:
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
This demon-possessed man* had great strength, to the point that no one could subdue him. People in the area were understandably scared of him. Yet notice that the spirits who possessed him were terrified of the Mighty Christ (more on this here).
* Luke’s account of these events also records only one demon-possessed man (Luke 8:26-39) whereas Matthew’s rendition cites two possessed men (Matthew 8:28-34). How do we explain this seeming discrepancy? Obviously one of the demoniacs was much more prominent, likely due to the myriad demons possessing him, and so Mark & Luke simply disregarded the secondary man in their accounts.
The man’s great strength can be attributed to the numerous wicked spirits that possessed him. They interestingly referred to themselves in a composite sense as “Legion,” which is a Latin word for a division of the Roman army, 5120 infantry with additional cavalry at the time of Christ. In general terms, the word refers to a very large number and so we can assume that there were hundreds or even thousands of demons in this man. Think of it in terms of a snake pit where hundreds of snakes writhe together. The name of this group of demons—“Legion”—is akin to the names delinquent gangs adopt, like The Bloods, The Warriors or The Mecca Knights.
Notice what these evil spirits compelled the man to do—he wandered amongst the tombs and hills crying out in torment day & night, regularly cutting himself with stones. Today we call this type of behavior self-harm or self-injury. People who do this are being harassed by demonic spirits. They may not necessarily be possessed (yet), but they’re definitely being oppressed to the point of harming themselves. Anytime you come across people bent on self-destruction you can be sure that evil spirits are involved.
A good example of this is this Swedish band that promotes suicide and self-harm in all its forms. The vocalist nonchalantly informed that there have been several cases of fans committing suicide or, at least, trying to commit suicide upon digesting the group’s music. He testified in an interview to his own struggles with depression & torment, including frequent stays at mental health facilities. Needless to say, evil spirits are attracted to this band like snakes to a snake pit; and they use this man & his music to spread mental illness and self-destruction to anyone attracted to the group.
The mass-murderer Richard Speck, who slew eight nursing students at a Chicago dorm in July, 1966, tried to commit suicide in his hotel room two days later. His senseless murder spree was obviously inspired by the kingdom of darkness. You see, wicked spirits use people to carry out their prime directive—destroy life—and then lose them, inspiring them to destroy their very selves.
Demons revel in the destruction of people because they hate us for the four reasons cited above. They’re gravely envious and mad as hell, literally, because fallen people are redeemable whereas they’re irredeemable. Thus demons do the very opposite of heavenly angels. Angels serve people (Hebrews 1:14) whereas evil spirits harass and destroy.
In fact, wicked spirits are hell-bent on destroying life period. This explains why the three Hebrew letters of Satan’s very name—shin/tet/nun—define his prime directive: the destruction of anything that contains life and any continuation of it.
The fact that filthy spirits are obsessed with destroying life can be observed by this conglomerate of demons—“Legion”—who begged Christ to allow them to possess a herd of pigs nearby, which he allowed. Thus the spirits left the man and went into the roughly 2000 swine wherein the herd promptly rushed down the steep bank and into the lake where they drowned (Mark 5:11-13). Why on Earth would they drive the pigs to do this? Because demons are hell-bent on the destruction of life in any form. They thrive on it.
How Do You Prevent Demonic Oppression or Possession?
How did this man get possessed by so many demons? (I’m not talking about cases where people are afflicted by “spirits of infirmities,” which we’ll look at momentarily). Was he just innocently walking along one day and an evil spirit suddenly possessed him and proceeded to invite his buddies to join in? No. As noted earlier, demons are impure or filthy spirits and so they’re naturally attracted to that which is morally filthy. If a person yields to fleshly thoughts and starts to dwell on them to the point of obsession and the corresponding evil behavior it’ll attract demonic spirits, which leads to oppression and, ultimately, possession. Once a person is possessed, additional demons are attracted to the wicked “party.”
This is one of the reasons why the aforementioned James 1:21 instructs us to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” and, instead, feed on the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). It’s why Paul encouraged believers to get in the habit of meditating on what is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy; he even stressed that this attracts the peace of God (Philippians 4:8-9). Do you want the peace of God in your life or the torment of wicked spirits? Obviously the former. Then “be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NCV).
This is what the Bible calls renewing the mind (Romans 12:2 & Ephesians 4:22-24). It’s simply changing your thought life from the bad and destructive to the good and productive. If we truly knew the power and life that is available to us through using our imagination for the positive we’d be so full of dynamic power we’d jump up & down with enthusiasm!
All this is linked to what theologians call the process of sanctification. ‘Sanctification’ is one of those big words of which few know the meaning. It simply refers to purification, which starts with spiritual rebirth (Titus 3:5) and continues throughout the believer’s life as you’re “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This not only saves believers from flawed ideologies and poisonous mindsets, it protects us from demonic oppression or, worse, possession. Poisonous mindsets, by the way, are noémas (noh-AY-mahs), which are mental strongholds that develop over time and by-and-large determine a person’s actions. There are whole ideologies that are demonic in nature, like communism.
As important as it is to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” and feed on God’s Word (James 1:21), it’s just as vital to cultivate a relationship with the LORD by drawing near to Him:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Verse 7 says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This is not solely referring to Satan himself, but rather to the kingdom of darkness in general and specifically the evils spirits that are attacking the believer. How do I know? Because James was addressing multitudes of believers scattered amongst many nations, which includes us today (James 1:1), and the devil’s not omnipresent, like the Almighty (i.e. everywhere at the same time). As such, Satan can only attack one believer or a group of believers at a point in time, like he did with his temptation of Christ in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). To attack numerous believers across the globe he has to use the network of demonic powers under him (Ephesians 6:12). Think about it in terms of one nation attacking another. We say, for instance, that “Bush invaded Iraq” when, in fact, Bush was half a planet away. It’s the same thing in the kingdom of darkness. The devil may be assaulting you, but it’s not Satan himself, but rather wicked spirits working under his perverse command.
With this understanding, notice what this passage says about deflecting the kingdom of darkness: The key to accomplishing this is to simply draw near to God, which automatically results in God drawing near to you. Coming near to the LORD includes repenting of immorality and feeding on His Word, but it’s also a matter of fostering a close relationship. This sends evil spirits fleeing!
That said, spirits of infirmities are a different issue. These types of evil spirits induce a mental or physical malady in those they assault, such as muteness/deafness (Mark 9:17-29) or a crippling condition (Luke 13:10-16). The victims of these spirits are not necessarily involved in moral filth, but rather are people who are spiritually feeble and ignorant, particularly in regards to spiritual warfare. In other words, spirits of infirmities take advantage of ignorance. Thankfully, knowledge and wisdom empower people and will protect you from such spirits (Proverbs 24:5), which is why this book exists. Spirits of infirmities are explained in this article and spiritual warfare here & here.
Evil Spirits are Attracted to “Dry Places”
Christ taught that impure spirits naturally seek “arid places,” which means dry, waterless areas (Matthew 12:43). This isn’t referring to places that are physically dry, like deserts, but rather spaces that are spiritually dry; that is, places where God is absent. You see, the LORD is likened to Living Water in the Bible—He’s The Fountain of Life who gushes forth life (Psalm 36:9). This corresponds to what Christ said about Himself and the Holy Spirit:
…Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
The Lord encourages those who are spiritually thirsty—spiritually dry—to come to Him and drink. He then points out that those who receive the Holy Spirit will have “rivers of living water” flowing within them.
The key to repelling demonic spirits is to stay well-watered by cultivating a relationship with the LORD. Saturate yourself with the things of God: prayer, simple communion, Scripture reading & meditation, praise & worship, fellowship with genuine believers, mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), etc. As you do this, you automatically stave off wicked spirits. How so? Because demons seek dry places—waterless spaces absent of God’s presence.
This reveals the danger in becoming spiritually dry. When a pastor & his assembly become spiritually arid it attracts evil spirits, who’ll start “whispering in their ears.” Spiritually-dry people are naturally susceptible to “doctrines of demons,” which gets them off track if embraced (1 Timothy 4:1). “Doctrines” refers to teachings or instructions; so “doctrines of demons” simply means teachings or instructions of demons. Take, for example, white or black fellowships that embrace racist ideology: Members of the KKK typically profess to be Christians, with some members even being church leaders. Then you have Jeremiah Wright’s hateful, crackpot false gospel. How can people of God—even fulltime ministers—go so far astray? Because they allowed themselves to become spiritually dry, which attracted evil spirits; and out of desperation they gave ear to doctrines of demons.
The “Put Off” / “Put On” Principle
Let’s read the full passage where Jesus said demonic spirits seek dry places:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.
When a filthy spirit leaves a person it naturally seeks rest in arid places—spaces absent of God and the living waters thereof. The presence of God torments wicked spirits and so they seek succor where He’s absent. If the demon can’t find such a place it will simply go back to the “house” it left—if it can, that is.
But why wouldn’t a demon be able to find a waterless place—a space lacking God and the things of God? We can only conjecture based on the scriptural evidence. We know that evil spirits are territorial; that is, they’re assigned specific areas (Daniel 10:13,20). We also know that they’re lazy. In Jesus’ hypothetical example the demon couldn’t find anywhere in its immediate territory for rest so it lazily goes back to the person it left and finds him “swept clean and put in order” yet “unoccupied.” This reveals that the person had enough discipline to get his life in order and “cleaned up his act,” but he wasn’t occupied with God and the corresponding things of God. It was an outward change lacking inward reality. So the demon acquires seven other spirits more malevolent than itself and returns to the unoccupied “house.” Needless to say, the end state of the man is worse than before.
This is a spur to seek more than mere superficial change based on self-discipline. You can’t just “quit a habit” or “break a habit” without filling the vacuum with something positive. And God—who is The Fountain of Life (Psalm 36:9)—is the most positive ‘thing’ to fill yourself. That’s why the Bible teaches the principle of “putting off” and “putting on” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Right patterns must replace wrong ones. Good behaviors must replace sinful activities. Productive thoughts must displace destructive ones.
On a side note, this passage shows that some demons are more malevolent than others.
Evil Spirits getting attached to Kids or Youths
Demons can get attached to people when they’re kids or youths if they’re regularly in an unhealthy environment where there’s significant demonic activity. For instance, if a child grows up in a household where there’s substantial immoral activity (including pharisaical religiosity) or one of the parents is demon-possessed or if they get involved with libertine gangs or groups.
The reason demons are able to attach themselves to children or youths in such situations is because—being young and influence-able—they’re vulnerable. Parents and guardians have a responsibility to protect kids under their authority, not just physically, but spiritually. Why do you think Jesus took the time to bless the children (Matthew 19:13)? Yet, even in these cases, evil spirits have to have the permission of the individual—conscious or subconscious—to increasingly oppress them and ultimately possess them.
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