One mystery in the Bible is the identity of the destroying angel. In the Book of Exodus, Moses said, “the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.”1 The “destroyer” is the Hebrew word shachath, and it is a verb, not a noun.2 Even if the verse is mistranslated, the destroying angel was still there because the verb “allow” suggests that someone other than the Lord killed the firstborn. By examining verses from both the Old and New Testament, the identity of the destroyer is revealed: He is the Devil.
Everything that God is, the Devil is not. God created the Devil as the archangel Lucifer,3 but he rebelled and was cast out of heaven along with many other angels.4 His destructive nature is revealed in the Book of Isaiah: The Lord God says, “I have created the waster to destroy.”5 God is a creator, but the Devil and his fallen angels are destroyers. In the Book of Revelation, the locusts “had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.”6 Apollyon is either the Devil or another demon. The Greek word for Apollyon is Apolluón, and it means destroyer.7 In the Gospel of John, Jesus contrasted Himself with the Devil when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”8 Unlike Christ who brings life, the Devil wants to bring death and destruction upon humanity.
If you read certain passages in the Bible literally, you might conclude that the Lord God is a destroyer like the Devil. However, as James Macknight explains, “Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do.”9 In Exodus, the Lord gave Moses instructions concerning the Passover: “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.”10 Read literally, this verse says that it is the Lord who will “strike” the firstborn of Egypt dead. The verse, however, is an idiom. According to Jackson, “It is fairly well known among advanced Bible students that there is a common idiom (figure of speech) in sacred literature, by which God is said to actively do that which, in reality, he merely allows…”11 While many verses in the Bible can be read literally, reading every verse literally will result in a wrong understanding of the nature of God.
God’s nature is that He is fair and just. He brings forth justice on the Earth by working through human beings who do what is just. Tim Keller states, “The Hebrew word for ‘justice,’ mishpat, occurs in its various forms more than 200 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. … But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights.”12 In the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh denied the Israelites their right to be free and kept them in slavery. This was an act of injustice, but the punishment—the killing of the firstborn of Egypt—was not fair or just. The firstborn received the death penalty for the sins of Pharaoh. To punish someone for another person’s actions is not justice; it is an act of evil.
God’s perfect will is that no one would do what is evil; however, His permissive will is “what He allows.”13 He allows human beings to choose good or evil, and He allows the Devil to do evil, tempting14 and deceiving15 human beings. God allowed the Devil to kill the firstborn so that Pharaoh would set Israel free from slavery. The Lord brought nine plagues upon Egypt, yet Pharaoh rejected the plea of Moses to “Let My people go!”16 Consequently, the Lord permitted a tenth plague. This was the only way that Pharaoh would relent, and Israel, the Lord’s “firstborn son”17, was set free with more than 600,000 adult males leaving Egypt.18
God allowed the Devil to kill the firstborn of Egypt to fulfill His plan and purpose for Israel. Further, events in the Old Testament often foreshadow what happens in the New Testament. The deaths of the firstborn of Egypt foreshadows the crucifixion of Christ, “the firstborn of all creation.”19 God allowed His only Son to be crucified, but He did not directly cause His death. The Devil killed the Son of God by working through Judas, the Pharisees, and the Roman authorities. Jesus, who was guilty of no crime, died on the cross, an act of injustice. Just as the deaths of the firstborn of Egypt resulted in the Israelites being set free, Christ’s death and resurrection redeemed all of mankind.
- Exodus 12:23 (New King James Version).
- Strong’s Hebrew, s.v. “Shachath,” accessed November 6, 2015, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7843.htm
- Isaiah 14:12 (New King James Version).
- Revelation 12:9 (New King James Version).
- Isaiah 54:16 (King James Version).
- Revelation 9:11 (New King James Version).
- Strong’s Greek, s.v. “Apolluón,” accessed November 6, 2015, http://biblehub.com/greek/623.htm
- John 10:10 (New American Standard Version).
- James MacKnight, A new literal translation from the original Greek, of all the apostolical epistles (London: Thomas Turnbull, 1809), 79. https://archive.org/stream/newliteraltransl01mack#page/78/mode/2up
- Exodus 12:13 (New King James Version).
- Wayne Jackson, ” Does God Send Delusions? Can a Person Harden Himself Beyond Hope?” Christian Courier, accessed November 7, 2015, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/589-does-god-send-delusions-can-a-person-harden-himself-beyond-hope
- Tim Keller, “What Is Biblical Justice?” Relevant, August 23, 2012, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-biblical-justice
- Emily Stimpson, “Discerning God’s positive and permissive will,” OSV Newsweekly, June 13, 2012, https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/2585/Discerning-Gods-positive-and-permissive-will.aspx
- Matthew 4:1 (New International Version).
- Revelation 12:9 (New American Standard Version).
- Exodus 9:1 (New King James Version).
- Exodus 4:22 (English Standard Version).
- Numbers 1:45-46 (New King James Version).
- Colossians 1:15 (English Standard Version).