Tricky Topics in the Bible

Who is the Destroyer?

You are probably familiar with the (true) story of the Hebrews being rescued out of slavery in Egypt by God. Ten plagues were sent by God against the Egyptians because Pharaoh hardened his heart and wouldn’t let the people go. The tenth plague was the climax, being not only the last, but the most dreadful judgement. The DESTROYER killed all the firstborn children (I’m assuming just the males, but I’m not entirely sure–I’ll have to look more into this later) and all the firstborn animals in the land of Egypt. Only the houses with the blood of a lamb (or a goat, Exodus 12:5) smeared across the side posts and doorpost would be “passed over.” I have seen the “destroyer” called the “Angel of Death,” even though the passage in the Bible where this story is found does not mention any angels.

Who is this person? My family watched “The Ten Commandments” computer-animated movie (2007, Promenade Pictures) the other night. Out of a supernatural mist in the sky appear vaporous angelic beings, rather like ghosts. These spirits swoop down over Egypt and steal the breath away from all the firstborn. A hissing, whispering noise is heard as this happens. It’s really creepy for a children’s movie. My big question is this: Is that representation correct? 

I have been reading Exodus lately as part of my personal Bible study. In chapter 12, I believe we have the answer.


“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgement: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt…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 to come in unto your houses to smite you…And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.”

Exodus 12:12-13, 23, 29  (Also see 1 Corinthians 10:10)  

It looks to me like the ghost-like beings portrayed in the movie are just made up. Who really killed the firstborn? It was the LORD Himself. The DESTROYER may be one of two possibilities, the way I see it:

  1. The “destroyer” is just another name for God. Yes, God destroys: “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” (1 Samuel 2:6) “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gr. gehenna].” (Matthew 10:28, obviously referring to God) I could cite many other references that bear witness to the fact that it is God Who ultimately holds life and death in His hands, such as “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [Gr. hades] and of death.” (Revelation 1:18) Satan is not the ruler of hell–Jesus is! Amazing, but true, though Jesus does not take pleasure in the torment of the individuals suffering there right now, but is grieved to a degree we can not even fathom.
  2. The “destroyer” is the mechanism God used to cause the deaths. What could cause people to die within a matter of hours, or even minutes? Was it a fast-acting bacteria? I’m no bio-chemist, so please don’t be too hard on me here. Note what it says in verse 13 of Exodus chapter 12: “…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” In verse 23, we read, “…the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.” God was the source of the plague, so we can say that it was really He Who was doing the killing, even though it may have been through the means of something like a lethal sickness. This, of course, is just conjecture. The only thing I am certain of, is that it was God Himself Who killed those not protected by the blood.

Whatever is meant by the “destroyer,” it certainly was not an army of ghosts. I like to read the “Family-Time Bible in Pictures” by Kenneth N. Taylor (1992, Tyndale House) to my children. In this book, you will read a more accurate description of what happened in Exodus 12, in simple children’s terms.

family time bible 001


“Moses became very angry at Pharaoh for not obeying God. He told Pharaoh that God was going to send one last, terrible punishment. God himself would come to Egypt one night and cause the oldest son in every Egyptian home to die–even Pharaoh’s son would die! But not one of the Israelite children would be hurt. Then Moses went to the Israelite people and told them to prepare to leave Egypt in four days. He told them that on the fourth day, each family was to kill a lamb and eat the meat for dinner. They were to put its blood on each side of their door and up above it too. When the Lord came that night, he would pass over each home that had blood on the door, but where there wasn’t any blood on the door, he would kill the oldest son. 

“At last that terrible night came. God saw the blood on the Israelites’ doors and passed over their homes. And the meal they ate that night became known as the Passover because God “passed over” their homes. But God went into every Egyptian home that did not have blood on the door and killed the oldest son. Oh, how the Egyptians cried! Then Pharaoh called Moses and told him, ‘Take your people and all their belongings and leave Egypt now!'”


Now that makes more sense!



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