|Volume 22 Number 10 October 2020||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Commonly, people refer to a death angel or the angel of death regarding the death of the firstborn in the final plague preceding the Israelite exodus from Egyptian bondage. Others adamantly object that God killed the firstborn under consideration. Let’s see what we can discern from the Bible.
Exodus 12:1 says, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt…” (NKJV). The “LORD” (KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV) or “Jehovah” (ASV, YLT) later interacted with the Israelites over their 40 years of wilderness wandering. First Corinthians 10:4 identifies the member of the Godhead that we know best as Jesus Christ as the One Who interacted with the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus, we have identified the One Who was speaking in the context of Exodus 12.
Were Exodus 12:12-13 alone considered, a person might well conclude that “the LORD” exclusive of anyone else killed the firstborn of Egypt. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (NKJV). The “I” refers to “the LORD” of verse 1.
However, consider Exodus 12:23 also, which reads, “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 not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.” Most translations of the Bible refer to “the destroyer” in addition to “the LORD” in Exodus 12:23. However, Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) reads, “And Jehovah hath passed on to smite the Egyptians, and hath seen the blood on the lintel, and on the two side-posts, and Jehovah hath passed over the opening, and doth not permit the destruction to come into your houses to smite.” Similarly, the Complete Jewish Bible says, “For Adonai will pass through to kill the Egyptians; but when he sees the blood on the top and on the two sides, Adonai will pass over the door and will not allow the Slaughterer to enter your houses and kill you.”
Some translations, though, make references to the death angel regarding “the destroyer.” Note the following references: “His angel that brings death” (CEV), “the Angel of Death” (GNT), “the one who brings death” (NCV), “the destroying angel” (NIrV), “his death angel” (NLT), “the Angel of Death” (TEV). Granted, some of these versions are not literal translations and border on being commentaries. Yet, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of Exodus 12:23, “…‘the destroyer.’ He is the messenger entrusted with the execution of God’s vengeance.” The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament says, “Jehovah effected the destruction of the first-born through the destroyer or destroying angel (Heb 11:28).” Evidently New Testament translators made the correlation to an angel of death since no capitalization reflecting deity was ascribed to “he who destroyed the firstborn.” “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them” (Hebrews 11:28).
Several commentaries see in Exodus 12:23 an angel of death directly being responsible for the death of the firstborn. “…The destroying angel passed over the houses of the Israelites, and did not destroy their first-born” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary). “The context suggests that the destroyer would accompany Yahweh and be ready to enter the houses whenever instructed to do so” (UBS Old Testament Handbook Series). “The lamb reminded the Jews of the blood that was applied to the doorposts in Egypt to keep the angel of death from slaying their firstborn” (Bible Exposition Commentary). Additional commentaries and reference works that refer to an angel of death or to a death angel include Romans: Expositions of Bible Doctrines, Biblical Illustrator, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, Pulpit Commentary, Spurgeon’s Sermons, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Outline Bible, Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Wilmington’s Bible Handbook.
The preceding paragraphs draw attention to contrasting views about Exodus 12:23. Did the LORD Himself kill the firstborn, or was He accompanied by a death angel or an angel of death?
There is a biblical precedent for angels carrying out destruction and death on behalf of God. Notice Psalm 78:49 relative to the wilderness wandering. “He cast on them the fierceness of His anger, Wrath, indignation, and trouble, By sending angels of destruction among them.” Second Kings 19:35 is a prominent passage where God used as His agent what we might describe as an angel of death. “And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses — all dead.” Obviously, an earlier biblical account records that angels were responsible for the destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and the cities of the Jordan River plain (Deuteronomy 29:23; Jude 7). Two angels entered Sodom (Genesis 19:1), and later they said, “For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13 NKJV).
“There is no problem that God’s agent appears to be mentioned here [Exodus 12:23] and that God Himself is represented as slaying the first-born in other passages. One, even God, is said to do what his agent does upon his orders” (Coffman). Certainly, angels did the bidding of the LORD in the destruction of Sodom and nearby cities, and a similar circumstance may be true regarding the death of the firstborn in Egypt.
In summary, Exodus 12:13 appears to refer to a death angel or an angel of death when it mentions “the destroyer.” “‘And will not allow the destroyer’ uses the same word for ‘destroy’ as verse 13. Here, however, it is used as a noun, with the definite article, referring possibly to an ‘Angel of Death’ (TEV)…” (UBS Old Testament Handbook Series). God has used angels to execute judgment on earth. However, the LORD was ultimately responsible for the death of the firstborn in Egypt, irrespective of whether an angel as His agent actually killed the firstborn. Happily, whether a person views the LORD exclusively in Exodus 12:13 or sees an angel accompanying the LORD does not affect one’s salvation.
Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Romans: Expositions of Bible Doctrines. Electronic Database. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966.
Bible Exposition Commentary. Electronic Database. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989.
Exell, Joseph S. Biblical Illustrator. Electronic Database. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. Electronic Database. Abilene: ACU Press, 1989.
Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Electronic Database. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Electronic Database. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary. Electronic Database. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition. Electronic Database. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Electronic Database. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Electronic Database. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
Pulpit Commentary. Electronic Database. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Richards, Lawrence O. The Teacher’s Commentary. Electronic Database. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1987.
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Spurgeon’s Sermons. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary. Electronic Database. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Electronic Database. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1980.
UBS Old Testament Handbook Series. Electronic Database. New York: United Bible Societies, 2004.
Wilmington, Harold L. The Outline Bible. Electronic Database. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1999.
_ _ _. Wilmington’s Bible Handbook. Electronic Database. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1997.
Who Was Miriam?
Miriam was a woman of note in the Holy Bible, who had her strengths and weaknesses like any one of us. We offer some facts on who Miriam was, along with brief comments. Miriam, sister of Aaron, was:
Miriam died at Kadesh (Numbers 20:1). Both males and females have their weaknesses and strengths. Kudos to Miriam for leading the women to appreciate God in praises to His great and glorious name. Never be rebellious in the church against church leaders because of the unsavory result (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Let all grievances be channeled to the leaders in the spirit of meekness and with a view to finding a solution, not to disrupt things.
The church will do well to promptly attend to all problems that are brought before her as the apostles did in Acts 6:1-7. “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).