The Death Angel or Destroyer in Exodus

Was it the Angel of the Lord who passed over the Egyptian household doors before Pharaoh released the Israelites?

The text of Exodus 11-12 does not define whether it was the angel of the Lord or the Lord himself. As you read through the text, it seems that overwhelmingly the Lord will execute his judgment against the Egyptians for their hard hearts.

Several times throughout Exodus 11-12 God says that he is Lord and he will execute his judgment by killing the firstborn of the Egyptians during the tenth plague. And yet there is one verse that grabs the attention of the reader who notices with focused reading.

First, we must understand that all of the Israelites followed God’s instructions, observing the Passover that saved their lives. Passover refers to the Lord passing over their houses and not killing their firstborn inside the houses.

The protection was from the lamb they slaughtered as a sacrifice to the Lord on that night. They ate the lamb in their houses as part of the Passover Seder meal. But they took the blood from lamb and put on the door posts of the houses to show that they were observing the Passover.

Christians immediately see the application of this practice. The blood of the Passover lamb for each of the families put on the wooden door posts of their houses protected them from death, from the passing over of the Lord’s judgment throughout the land.

Jesus died upon the tree of Calvary, the cross. He was the Passover Lamb during the Passover celebration whose blood on the wooden post of the cross saves the repentant sinner who trusts in him from death caused by sin. It’s one of the richest images of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross throughout the Bible.

Exodus 12:23 seems to suggest that there are two agents going through the process of discovering which households are protected by the blood on the door posts and which are not.

For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:23, ESV)

The Bible seems to make a distinction between Yahweh, the Lord, and the “destroyer.” This is usually been called the death angel or the angel of death in Christian theology. The Lord is the one to distinguish which households are following his instructions about Passover and which ones are not.

He seems to be the one in charge who decides whether or not the destroyer can go into the house and kill the firstborn. So the question comes down to who the Destroyer is. It’s possible that it is the angel of the Lord. But it could also be another angel.

In many of the circumstances of the angel of the Lord being mentioned throughout the Old Testament, it seems very possible that this angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. When you read closely the accounts of the angel of the Lord appearing to human beings, he receives worship from them.

When you look at the New Testament, Angels never accept worship from people. Throughout the book of Revelation John bows before the angel and the angel tells him to stop. But the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament many times accepts worship and sacrifice from the humans he visits.

Only God can accept worship from human beings. Therefore, the angel of the Lord must be God. So a messenger from God who is divine, the pre-incarnate Jesus, is most likely the angel of the Lord. This is called a theophany.

One of the possibilities for the Destroyer is that it is the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, who does the action of bringing God’s justice to the unrepentant and calloused Egyptians who refused to obey God and let his people go nine times before this.

The only other option is that the Destroyer is something completely different, perhaps Justin angel, and not the angel of the Lord. In 1 Chronicles 21:15, a destroying angel is the one that brings God’s judgment against Jerusalem because David took the census and it displeased the Lord. This would be in support of it being another angel and not the angel of the Lord.

The text of the Bible may not give us enough clear evidence on the identity of the Destroyer. The fact of the matter is that God executed his judgment and showed that he is not only a compassionate God but also a just one. The Egyptians’ calloused and hardened hearts brought God’s judgment and he did not spare them after nine opportunities to let his people go.

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Andrew

    Fascinating, Pastor Jon! I have also heard it said that the Angel of the Lord is the Presence of the LORD, himself. It would be interesting to know which of the Hebrew names of God was used, as the Jews held the different names to refer to different aspects of God. Also, I have heard the Holy Spirit referred to as the Destroyer. I can’t remember where it is in the Bible.

    1. Jonathan Srock

      Thanks for your comments, Andrew. I’ve never heard of the Holy Spirit being referred to as the Destroyer. However, the angel of the Lord being the presence of God does fit the idea. Almost every time I have seen the angel of the Lord show up, it seems to be the Lord himself interacting with humanity. If you do find where the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Destroyer, I would be very interested in seeing that Scripture reference. Thanks!

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