Q. Please comment on Exodus 11 and 12, where the “death angel” supposedly killed the firstborn of any families who didn’t have blood sprinkled on their doorposts on the night of the Passover. Who was the “death angel”?
A. I remember as a child hearing and reading in Bible story books about the “death angel,” some ominous and mysterious angel that had the job of killing. However, as I study this passage in particular and Scripture in general, I do not find a specific angel in charge of death. Some passages do speak of angels being involved with death. For example, Genesis 3:24 reads, “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Second Samuel 24:12–17 records how an angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem until God told him to withdraw his hand. In 2 Kings 19:35, we read about an angel who put to death 185,000 Assyrians who had attacked Israel. But death is not necessarily the sole duty of these beings, and was an angel the instrument who carried out the deaths referred to in Exodus 11 and 12?
Notice Exodus 12:12–14: “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. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.” Notice the word “I.” We see that God Himself (Yahweh) was going to strike the Egyptian firstborn. We see no angel here.
Verse 23 continues, “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.” This verse might sound more like a third party was involved—an angel—due to the word “destroyer.” However, 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 if they had the blood sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts.
Verses 26 and 27 read, “And it shall be, when your children say to you, What do you mean by this service? that you shall say, It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households. So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” In these verses we read that it was the Lord Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel. He did the passing over. This truth perfectly harmonizes with the truth that Christ is our Passover: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Why is He our Passover? John the Baptist declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus came to earth as a babe to die on the cross for our sins. “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. . . . He [God] loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2; 4:10).
Christ our Redeemer died on the cross,
Died for the sinner, paid all his due;
Sprinkle your soul with the blood of the Lamb,
And I will pass, will pass over you.
—“When I See the Blood,” John G. Foote
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