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Num 23:21 says, “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, Nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him,"

How can this be said about Israel, after all the times they rebelled against God?

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4 Answers 4

The answer is in the last part of the verse. ..."the Lord his God is with him". Since the Lord is with them, He does not see sin in them.

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Explanation Number 1: God did not perceive iniquity that is "in Jacob" (people of Israel), for when they violate His words, He is not meticulous with them to meditate upon their falsity and their perversity in that they violate His law.

Explanation Number 2: "he" in that verse referes to Balaam. Balaam did not perceive any practice of idolatry or robbery among Israel, for they did not commit these sins.

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Explanation #1 kinda makes sense, but #2 does not: Why would God be with Baalam, who is condemned as an evil man? Moreover, the verse is preceeded by "He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it." - Baalam speaking of God in the third and himself in the first person. Certainly this would not be reversed in the next verse. –  Niobius Oct 29 '13 at 18:14

The Masoretic translation makes the verse easier to understand: 'None have beheld iniquity in Jacob, Neither hath one seen perverseness in Israel' 'perverseness' can alternatively be translated as 'calamity' - so Rabbi Hertz Then we read: Because there are no gross-injustice (iniquity) in Israel God remains on their side and visit no calamities on them. Israel might have sinned and might have been disobedient but because there was justice and people did not indulge in immorality, God remained on their side. (A well spotted verse that has a message for modern nations.)

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One explanation is that God isn't speaking according to the strict letter of the law. The verse is saying that "He doesn't [want to] see evil in Israel". He looks to ignore it, as it were. This explanation is proffered by the Rashbam, Rashi and Onkelos, who explain that the latter clause of the verse ותרועת מלך בו stems from the word friendship/companionship (as opposed to the more direct translation of horn/trumpet blast that is usually associated with religious ceremony or military action, as per the Sforno and Ibn Ezra for example, and seemingly a little out of place here). The idea of God ignoring Israel's sin sits nicely with this explanation of God being Israel's friend/companion.

An alternate explanation that comes out of an earlier comment of the Rashbam, is simply that God hasn't seen Israel sin since the last time Bil'am tried to curse Israel - so if they were blessed last time around, there's nothing that has happened since that will cause God to curse them. This is explanation is simple and direct.

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