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Who brought the plague – God or the destroyer?

The question needs to be broken into three parts. 

  1. Who did the actual destroying/killing?
  2. Who was to blame for the destruction?
  3. Who initiated or organised the destroying?

There seems to be several possibilities:

  1. The devil
  2. The devil’s angels
  3. The people
  4. The Lord
  5. The Lord’s angels

The ‘Destroyer’ in the New Testament

The only two instances of this Greek word. They are found in:

1Co 10:9-10 ESV  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Heb 11:28 ESV  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

The Account in the Old Testament

The first Passover

Exo 11:1 ESV  The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely.
Exo 12:12 ESV  For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
Exo 12:23 ESV  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 will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.
Exo 12:29 ESV  At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.

The grumbling Israelites

The people grumbled a lot. 1 Cor 10:10 could be referring to any of those with the exception of the ‘snakes’ because it is explicitly mentioned in the preceding verse. So it is not clear what incident Paul had in mind when he referenced the ‘Destroyer’ in 1 Cor 10:10 since the word ‘Destroyer’ is not mentioned in any of the incidents where people were killed during the exodus. However, given the similarity to the Passover account, it is probably the ‘quail’ incident. In it the people had complained for food and the plague was ‘very great’.

Num 11:31-34 ESV  Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground.  32  And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.  33  While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.  34  Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.

Similar OT passages

2Sa 24:12-13 ESV  “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”  13  So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”
2Sa 24:14-16 ESV  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”  15  So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.  16  And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
1Ch 21:14-15 ESV  So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell.  15  And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Conclusion

  1. The passage regarding the Passover and David’s sin are strikingly similar
    1. Both are initiated by God – ‘Yet one plague more I will bring’ and ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you’
    2. Both say the Lord struck the people – ‘the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians’ and ‘the LORD sent a pestilence’.
    3. Both attribute the killing to a secondary agent – ‘the Destroyer of the firstborn’ and ‘the angel who was working destruction’
    4. Both are controlled and limited by God – ‘the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow’ and ‘It is enough; now stay your hand’
  2. Paul uses the same language – ‘the destroyer’ – in 1 Cor 10:10
    1. So it seems reasonable to assume that a similar process happened.
  3. As for the opening questions:
    1. Who did the actual destroying/killing?
      1. An ‘angel’  and the ‘destroyer’
      2. It is likely that the destroyer is an ‘angel of the Lord’.  This language is used multiple times in Old and New Testaments. For example: Isa 37:36 ESV  And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.
    2. Who was to blame for the destruction?
      1. Pharaoh, the people of Israel and David.
    3. Who initiated or organised the destroying/killing?
      1. God
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