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.
All answers above miss the point. The New Testament actually explains it (with Numbers 25) in 1 Corinthians 10. The day of atonement had already occurred and a reminder of that occurred in chapter 21 of Numbers with the bronze serpent. The effect of the atonement was that they as a nation were covered from all sin (except the high handed rebellion and idolatry) for 1 year. This is why Balaam implicitly counselled Balak how to get the Israelites out from under that atonement covering in Chapter 25 by seducing the men of Israel into sexual immorality with the Moabite women and idolatry... and they incurred judgement.. meaning they were no longer free from misfortune or trouble.. until they repented. The no misfortune and no trouble seen was from Gods perspective because of the atonement..and it wasnt a reference to future as the NLT mistranslates it.
See this translation
לֹֽא־ H3808 lo- Nor הִבִּ֥יט H5027 hib·Bit He hath not beheld אָ֙וֶן֙ H205 'a·ven iniquity בְּיַעֲקֹ֔ב H3290 be·ya·'a·Ko, in Jacob וְלֹא־ H3808 ve·lo- Nor רָאָ֥ה H7200 ra·'Ah neither hath he seen עָמָ֖ל H5999 'a·Mal perverseness בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל H3478 be·Yis·ra·'El; in Israel יְהוָ֤ה H3068 A·do·Nai the LORD אֱלֹהָיו֙ H430 'e·lo·Hav his God עִמּ֔וֹ H5973 im·Mo, with וּתְרוּעַ֥ת H8643 u·te·ru·'At [is] with him and the shout מֶ֖לֶךְ H4428 Me·lech of a king בּֽוֹ׃ H0 bo
The words are better rendered.
BSB : He considers no disaster for Jacob; He sees no trouble for Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of the King is among them
The Hebrew word for Iniquity used there is.
trouble, wickedness, sorrow trouble, sorrow idolatry trouble of iniquity, wickedness Origin: from an unused root perhaps meaning properly, to pant (hence, to exert oneself, usually in vain
TWOT entry: 48a
Part(s) of speech: Noun Masculine
Strong's Definition: From an unused root perhaps meaning properly to pant (hence to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught); strictly nothingness ; also trouble, vanity, wickedness ; specifically an idol : - affliction, evil, false, idol, iniquity, mischief, mourners (-ing), naught, sorrow, unjust, unrighteous, vain, vanity.
And the Hebrew Word for Perverseness is
toil, trouble, labour trouble trouble, mischief toil, labour Origin: from H5998
TWOT entry: 1639a
Part(s) of speech: Noun
Strong's Definition: From H5998; toil, that is, wearing effort ; hence worry, whether of body or mind: - grievance (-vousness), iniquity, labour, mischief, miserable (-sery), pain (-ful), perverseness, sorrow, toil, travail, trouble, wearisome, wickedness.
So there is no Contradiction.
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.