Why the Devil is the Destroying Angel

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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.

Notes

  1. Exodus 12:23 (New King James Version).
  2. Strong’s Hebrew, s.v. “Shachath,” accessed November 6, 2015, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7843.htm
  3. Isaiah 14:12 (New King James Version).
  4. Revelation 12:9 (New King James Version).
  5. Isaiah 54:16 (King James Version).
  6. Revelation 9:11 (New King James Version).
  7. Strong’s Greek, s.v. “Apolluón,” accessed November 6, 2015, http://biblehub.com/greek/623.htm
  8. John 10:10 (New American Standard Version).
  9. 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
  10. Exodus 12:13 (New King James Version).
  11. 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
  12. Tim Keller, “What Is Biblical Justice?” Relevant, August 23, 2012, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-biblical-justice
  13. 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
  14. Matthew 4:1 (New International Version).
  15. Revelation 12:9 (New American Standard Version).
  16. Exodus 9:1 (New King James Version).
  17. Exodus 4:22 (English Standard Version).
  18. Numbers 1:45-46 (New King James Version).
  19. Colossians 1:15 (English Standard Version).
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11 thoughts on “Why the Devil is the Destroying Angel

  1. Hello crosstheology, The word “trick” suggests that I’m trying to deceive people. I think I’ve presented a strong argument (with evidence) that the Devil is the destroying angel in the Bible.

    The Devil deceives human beings by leading them into evil, and then he is permitted (or possibly gains the right) to bring destruction upon them.

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  2. You can’t use that trick to do away with every OT verse which talks about God using violence. Read, for example, Genesis 6, which talks about God sending a flood to destroy 99.99% of humankind.

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  3. There are a few ways active verbs can be understood. And again, I understand your point and accept it as a legitimate possibility. One has to wonder the culpability between “permitting” and “doing”. If I “allowed” someone to break into my home and torture my family, then am I free of blame? I do not know if the figure of speech would save God’s character in the method you wish.

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  4. I could see that. But I wonder if you would ever personally use that figure of speech. If there is a concern about culpability then why would the figure of speech be invented and then used?

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  5. One verse I find interesting is found at the end of Job. In the book of Job, God and “Satan” wager on the outcome of Job’s faith. Job states several times that his ills are from God, although arguably the ills are from Satan. But the narrator of the text represents Yahweh as the ultimate culpable party. Satan is merely acting as an extension of God’s power, a delegate. I am not sure that shifting blame due to actor is appropriate.

    Job 42:11 … they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him…

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  6. Hi Chris,

    I agree with your argument – that the ‘permissive will of God’ is different to God ‘acting’ according to His will.That’s what I was pointing at in (1). I also agree with you that this explains why bad stuff happens, though I would want to say it’s only a part of the explanation. My questions were seeking a little more from where you seemed to be going in your last paragraph…

    Seeing the difference between active and permissive will doesn’t of itself enable us to stop blaming God for bad stuff. That’s what my questions aimed to invoke. Inaction is of itself no excuse.
    So the permissive will of God must lead us to another consideration…
    Where we see signs of God’s permissive will, there is always a bigger plan which we haven’t seen. He only permits injustice KNOWING that by doing so it will actually result in victory according to his divine plans. Yes. The death and resurrection of Jesus should teach us this.
    So, in conclusion, when we encounter what appears to be defeat, it isn’t that God failed. He always knows how to gain a bigger victory from a situation than we can see ourselves. So we need to seek his heavenly perspective on the situation and, whether or not we receive that knowledge, to trust the One who knows the divine plan.

    Thanks for your reply btw.

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  7. Three questions that stem from this post –

    1) Christians often confess their sins as not only what they have said and done but what they chose NOT to do or say. Their choice not to act in line with God’s will is still sin. Do you agree?

    2) God is incapable of sin because he cannot choose to act, or not act, against his own will. So your suggestion that God didn’t want all the firstborn to die and yet he allowed it – as if he can go against his own will is contradictory. If not, how not?

    3) The Gospels are clear that Jesus death is in line with God’s will. Yes?

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