Who was the Mysterious
Death Angel?

by
Jack M. Lane

Who was the angel of the tenth plague? Can we know? Does scripture reveal the name of this destroyer? Read here the identity of the dreaded death angel of the Passover!


When your children ask you what this celebration means, tell them, "This is the Passover of the Lord, when the death angel passed over the houses of the Israelites and struck the firstborn of the Egyptians."

Many people -- indeed, many Bible textbooks -- speak about the death angel who saw the blood of the lambs on the doorposts of the Israelite houses and passed over those houses, while in the rest of Egypt he brought death to every firstborn, whether man or beast.

Have you ever found yourself explaining Passover this way? Isn’t that how the Bible says to explain it?

Was the death angel a real spirit being? Oh, yes, most definitely! Does the way we usually explain it fit in with what God reveals in the Bible? Not exactly.

A REAL "WHO-DONE-IT"!

Can we find out the identity of this mysterious figure? Are there enough clues in the Bible to reveal who it was? Is it some black-robed spectre of the night, carrying a crooked sickle, as we have often imagined?

Let’s look at the passage of scripture that tells about the Passover and the tenth plague on Egypt, and see for ourselves who this mysterious death angel really is!

"The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt... ‘Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door-frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. ... This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn -- both men and animals -- and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt’" (Exodus 12:1-2, 6-7, 11-13, NIV).

From a closer reading of the scriptures, it becomes clear that Yawheh Himself intended to strike the firstborn. There doesn’t appear to be any reference to an angel "doing the dirty work" at all! Is that how it happened? Let’s see.

"Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame. Not one of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down’" (verses 21-23).

To the Israelites’ credit, there is no record that any of them failed to do this, nor is there any indication that any Israelite firstborn were slain. The Israelites of that generation had their problems, but by the time the tenth plague arrived, they had seen enough to be convinced that they should obey Moses’ commands, and as a result all of them were spared.

But what is this reference to a "destroyer"? If Yahweh would not permit the destroyer to enter their houses and strike them down, doesn’t that sound like a third party being sent into people’s homes? Yes, it does sound like that. But let’s examine the Hebrew a bit more closely.

WHO IS THE DESTROYER?

Even in the KJV, verse 23 reads: "For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer [Hebrew shachath, Strong’s #7843] to come in unto your houses to smite you."

The Hebrew word shachath, translated into the noun "destroyer," is actually a verb! It is most often translated in the KJV as the verbs "destroy," or "corrupt," but also a few times as the nouns "destroyer," "corrupter," "waster," "spoilers," etc.

This word is actually used as a gerund, which is a verb used as a noun. As an illustration of how a word can be used as different parts of speech, suppose you signed up for a cooking class. Is it literally the class that is going to be cooked? Of course not. (In this case, "cooking" would be an adjective, describing the class.) No, it’s a class to teach the art of cooking. Yet, "cooking" is ordinarily a verb, as in the sentence, "I’ll be cooking dinner tonight." Using the verb as a noun, we can talk about the art of cooking, and the class where it is taught. This is how a verb can be used as a noun. When that happens, we call it a gerund.

Now let’s look more closely at shachath. As a verb, it means "to decay; to mar; to destroy, devastate; to ruin...; to kill...; to harm...; to violate; to injure; to act wickedly...; (as a subst.) the destroying angel" (Zodhiates). In context, we might understand that Yahweh sent, not an angel to destroy, but the destruction itself! We might get the picture by reading verse 23 as, "When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroying to enter your houses and strike you down." The "-ing" ending shows the use of a gerund in English, and also shows us how the verb "to destroy" can be used as a noun.

There was no "death angel" in the Passover story, after all!

WAS THERE EVER A DEATH ANGEL?

Is there a death angel mentioned in scripture? Yes, there are times when an angel is sent to do the destroying. Note this example, in 2 Samuel 24:12-17: "Go and tell David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’ So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’ David said to Gad, ‘I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.’ So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand.’ The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, ‘I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.’"

Here the Hebrew does refer to an actual angel, apart from Yahweh, and even indicates that he was visible to David. Because of this and other incidents recorded in scripture involving angels, we have carelessly assumed that a "death angel" was involved in the tenth plague on Egypt. Some have even speculated that this "death angel" was Satan himself, on a special mission to destroy. But we have seen how there was no such third party in this event. It was Yahweh Himself, the God of Israel, who brought about the death of the firstborn.

God is sovereign in the affairs of men. In fact, in Deuteronomy 32, Moses quotes God as saying, "‘See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no-one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live for ever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.’ Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.

"Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you -- they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’" (Deuteronomy 32:39-47).

The lesson of the Passover was never to be forgotten. Continuing in the narrative of Exodus chapter 12, we read: "Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ Then the people bowed down and worshipped. The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.

"At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead" (Exodus 12:24-30).

THE BIG PICTURE

When the Eternal God of Israel moves into action, no one, not even the supposedly powerful Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt, can stop Him. He is sovereign in the affairs of men, and in our own personal lives, as well!

God is directly involved in Passover. The identity of the "death angel" is Yahweh Himself! He did the passing over, rather than an angel! Why?

It is God who passes over our own personal sins. The Most High God has a personal relationship with us in our lives, as our Father. When He was deciding who should live (through baptism and newness of life), your name came up!

It was Yahweh, the Eternal God of Israel, who did the passing over. Is that significant? Yahweh became Jesus Christ of Nazareth! He is the Passover Lamb of God -- the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, for our sins (John 1:29)!

"He [Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. ... This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 2:2; 4:10).

This year at Passover, remember that our Savior is not only the Lamb of God who was slain, but also the One who passed through Egypt to slay the firstborn! When He passes through the land of sin (spiritual Egypt) today, and sees the atoning blood on the doorposts of your life, He passes over you, sparing your life, to destroy the sin.