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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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.)
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.
He said that he has not observed any iniquity in Jacob because we are under the everlasting covenant of Isaac. Gen 17:19 We are under the law of faith. Rom 3:27 We are not under the covenant of Abraham.
Correctly understood the prophet is saying "In my prophetic vision from God about the future of the Jews I don't see bad things occurring". Check out the context and how it is correctly rendered in the NIV:
20I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it. 21**“No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel.** The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. 22God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. 23There is no divination against Jacob, no evil omens against Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’ 24The people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest till it devours its prey and drinks the blood of its victims.”
This is not because God doesn't see their iniquity (as suggested in the other answers) but because of God's promises to their forefathers:
NIV 19God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? 20I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.