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Rashi in Bamidbar 22:5 addresses Bilam's being a prophet:

"Why did the Holy One rest his Divine Presence upon a wicked gentile? So that the nations of the world should not have an excuse [as to why they didn't serve God]. They would have said, 'If we had prophets, we too would have repented.' So God established prophets for them."

To me this wouldn't seem 'fair'. If the gentiles would want a prophet to help them 'repent' why not establish for them a righteous gentile prophet?

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/36417 –  msh210 Mar 19 at 0:58

2 Answers 2

I don't have a source for this, but I always assumed the idea was not Bilaams personal performance, but rather how the nations interacted with Bilaam. "I gave you a prophet and you asked him to help win wars and deliver curses. Couldn't you have asked him for some directions on how to live a meaningful life?" G-d's response to the unasked question is don't tell me that a prophet will fix you, because look what you think a prophet is for.

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I agree with this. If you read the verses in numbers, Bilaam had very little backbone. He was very much a servant of the people. They misused him themselves, and despite his protests. –  Baby Seal Jan 20 at 19:47
    
Why can't midianite ask for blessing instead of cursing jews? –  Jim Thio Apr 14 at 1:18
    
@JimThio Exactly. They could have done that, but they didn't. Instead all they cared about was wars and delivering curses. –  YEZ Apr 14 at 4:06

Being righteous or not, is up to the individual person. G-d can give a person (i.e. Bilam) the gift of prophecy, but then it is up to him how he uses these gifts. Itro is an example of a gentile that searched very hard, and found the truth. When a person chooses a certain path, and has a strong will to go in that path, he/she get help and assistance to go on that path.

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Are you saying that if even a wicked man like Bila'am could be "turned around" by the gift of prophecy, no other wicked person would have an excuse? (So, by being a bad man he serves as a good example?) –  Monica Cellio Jul 3 '13 at 14:48
    
Bilam didn't curse Israel. So why is he bad again? –  Jim Thio Sep 25 '13 at 5:34
    
Isn't the question asking why Bilaam was the nations' prophet if he was evil? This seems to address how he could be evil and be a prophet. Could you perhaps tie it in more clearly to the question? In any event it is an interesting thought, and quite true I think! –  Baby Seal Jan 20 at 19:51

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