You often hear at Passover about the “angel of death,” the one sent by God by whom all the firstborn of Egypt were slain. The Passover story is found in Exodus 12. People post on social media about the angel of death at the Passover, others say there was no angel of death connected with Passover. In the past, I’ve always just accepted that there was, without looking at it too closely, so I decided to dig into what Scripture says.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for angel is מַלְאָךְ mahl’akh. You will find the term מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה Mahl’akh ADONAI, Angel of the LORD, in many places in the Old Testament. Because of what is said about this particular Angel, and what He did, some believe Him to be the pre-incarnate Yeshua/Jesus. I lean that way, but that is not where we are going in this writing.
When the night came for Israel to place the blood of the Passover lamb over their doorposts, the night of death for all the firstborn of Egypt, Exodus 12:11-14 says, “11) [God speaking] Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the LORD’S Passover. 12) For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the LORD. 13) The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14) Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.”
We see in verse 12 that God says that HE WILL STRIKE DOWN THE FIRSTBORN, HE WILL EXECUTE JUDGMENTS. In verse 13, He says that when He sees the blood [over the doorposts] HE WILL PASS OVER YOU. This is not the work of a sent angel; this is the Holy God Himself at work.
So what is the work of an angel, מַלְאָךְ mahl’akh? Hebrews 1 gives a powerful word of how much greater the Son of God is than the angels, “…as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (1:4b). And the angels? “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14). They are sent out by God. Another definition for angel is “messenger.”
Probable confusion comes from Exodus 12:23, “For the LORD will pass through to smite 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 come in to your houses to smite you.” The majority of Bible translations use the term the destroyer; a few, such as the NLT, CEV, & GNT have changed it to read the death angel or similar.
So who or what is the destroyer? The Hebrew term in Exodus 12:23 is הַמַּשְׁחִ֔ית ha-mash’kheet; the Hebrew root word is שָׁחַת shah-khaht, and means “decay, ruin, destroy, waste, ravage, corrupt, go to ruin.” First, we must note that we do NOT see מַלְאָךְ mahl’akh in this verse. Then we have to understand that this destroyer is NOT a “person,” but is rather the penalty of death that had been proclaimed earlier. The Pulpit Commentary states, “It is to be noted that elsewhere Jehovah himself is everywhere spoken of as the sole agent; and that in the present passage the word used has the meaning of ‘destruction’ no less than that of ‘destroyer.’” The Bible Bulletin noted that, “the word is actually a verb used as a noun (destroying). So God was saying that He would not permit the destroying (the destruction) to enter their houses.” An online page by Tony Mariot, Researcher in Biblical Antiquities at University of Oxford, noted: “Interestingly, the original Hebrew text of Exodus 12:23 does not mention an ‘angel’ at all. It simply says that ‘the destroyer’ or ‘the spoiler’ or ‘the one who causes damage’ would slay the firstborn of Egypt.” In the verse itself it does say, “For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians….”
What Scripture does at times is give life, or personality, to something inanimate, something that cannot act on its own. An example is found in Psalm 98:8, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” Obviously, rivers don’t have hands to clap, nor could they clap them if they did; mountains don’t have mouths, so they can’t sing. Or do they? Perhaps there’s more that goes on in the spirit realm than we can see or hear with our human perception. Why does Romans 8:22 say that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”? So to give personality to something called “destruction” is not unreasonable.
There are instances in the Old Testament when an angel, or The Angel, did bring death. An example is found in 1 Chronicles 21, when King David had ordered a census, but did not follow the guidelines found in Exodus 30:12-14, “12) When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13) This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. 14) Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD.” David ignored, for whatever reason, the ransom of the half a sanctuary shekel for each one numbered.
Bible readers are familiar with the story (also found in 2 Samuel 24). David got into some very serious trouble with God because of his foolishness. 1 Chronicles 21:14-16 tells us, “14) So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15) And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, ‘It is enough; now relax your hand.’ And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16) Then David lifted up his eyes and saw מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה Mahl’akh ADONAI, the Angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces.”
So there was a destroying angel sent at different times for purposes of extreme disobedience and punishment. Again, was this a pre-incarnate Yeshua?
We must note again that this term, or title, מַלְאָךְ mahl’akh is NOT found connected with Passover. At Passover, it was God Himself. There was NOT an angel of death who destroyed the firstborn of Egypt.
The primary point being that there are times of such extreme disobedience among mankind that God Himself steps in, but not in human form. This is not to say that He is not involved always, but some times and things are simply of more importance than others.
It’s essentially a minor point about the angel of death, yet important enough to realize that God Himself stepped into this picture. It also never hurts for what we say to line up with Scripture.
Our current event seems to me to signify a warning from Heaven. A Holy God, rather, THE Holy God, is watching us. How should we then live? This may be just a first warning. Man was created to worship God; how far away we have fallen. If we do not heed this warning, more will come. There can be no doubt about that. Perhaps not right away, but only God knows. Our duty is to be in a repentant and praising lifestyle daily, waiting upon Him. Repenting once and living however we feel like after that won’t cut it.
We have to understand that God is love, and His love is so extremely and massively holy that we, in our flesh, can never fully get a grasp of what that means. Such intense holiness cannot abide for an instant any kind of sin; that’s why Yeshua/Jesus came in the flesh, or even, perhaps, in the form of a man in the Old Testament. Only as a man Himself could He get close enough to man and man not instantly “burst into flames.” Thank God He came, and this season, thank Him that He was the Passover Lamb, the Eternal One who died, so that we can be saved from the destroyer and [the second] death. He was also represented by the Sacrifice Lambs offered at the Temple. Thank God that this Lamb ultimately defeated death; He rose to new life, and we are offered that same in our future if we just believe and accept; believe, turn our lives around to good, and walk with Him according to all of His Word.