(Exodus 12:12) Who Really Killed the Firstborn in Egypt?

Posted Feb 15, 2021 by Kevin J. Mullins in Questions Concerning God's Character

“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 judgment: I am the LORD.” (Exodus 12:12)

When reading this verse at face value most come to the conclusion that God is the one who directly killed all the firstborn in Egypt. The verse even says this is God’s judgment, but most skip over the fact that this judgment is against “the gods of Egypt.” So what does this judgment against the gods of Egypt have to do with the killing of all the firstborn? The answer lies is the meaning of God’s judgment.

How does God judge?

Many view God’s judgment as Him lashing out in wrath against those who do not do what He says. But that is not quite what we see in Scripture, especially in the context of the plagues of Egypt. Let’s notice verse 23:

“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 (permit) the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.” (Exodus 12:23).

So who is it that really killed the firstborn? The destroyer. God’s judgment was simply to choose whether or not to permit the destroyer to enter the house. Of course God’s choice was to prevent the destroyer access, but God accepted the free choice of the individual family. If the blood was on the doorpost, God accepted their free choice and did not permit the destroyer to enter. If there was no blood, then God accepted their free choice and did not prevent the destroyer to enter.

This is how God judges. Every person receives the free choice to judge (decide) their own fate. Notice what Paul said to a group of unbelieving Jews:

“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46).

Those who did not spread the blood upon their doorposts chose to trust in the gods of Egypt instead of the one true God. All false gods are an invention of Satan. He gets mankind to worship and trust these false gods in order to bring them to destruction.

The real destroyer:

Many refer to the destroyer mentioned in Exodus 12:23 as “the destroying angel”, however, this destroying angel does not work for God. The destroying angel is Satan (or at least one of his angels). Referring to the wondering Israelites as they left Egypt Paul writes:

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:9-10).

Here Paul refers to the destroyer again. Notice verse 10 again as it is translated in The Good News Bible:

“We must not complain, as some of them did--and they were destroyed by the Angel of Death.”

Here we see the destroyer as “the Angel of Death.” Do you really think one of God’s good angels is a killer? Would a God of righteousness create an angel for the purpose of destroying and killing? Not according to Scripture:

“In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death.” (Proverbs 12:28).

There is no death in righteousness. Here is how the International standard Version translates it:

“In the pathway to righteousness there is life, and in that lifestyle there is no death.” (Proverbs 12:28).

The lifestyle of righteousness does not produce, nor execute death. Paul says, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26). How could death be an enemy that will be destroyed if it was part of God’s righteousness? God has clearly proclaimed:

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished.” (Isaiah 51:6).

If death were part of God’s righteousness, and His righteousness will not be abolished, then there’s no way death could be abolished (destroyed).

The Greek word Paul uses for “destroyer” in 1 Corinthians 10:10 is ὀλοθρευτής (olothreutés) which means “venomous serpent.” Who is this venomous serpent?

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12:9).

Clearly the Devil (Satan) is the destroyer.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

Killing and destruction fits the Devil’s evil character:

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44).

It is evil that will kill the unbelievers, not righteousness:

Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.” (Psalm 34:21-22).

God’s Anger and Wrath is Him Giving Mankind Over to Their Own Judgment and Fate:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness … (Romans 1:18).

How is God’s wrath revealed?

“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” (Verse 24).  

“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections …” (Verse 26).

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind …” (Verse 28).

Keeping this in mind, Scripture is clear that it was evil angels attacking the Egyptians, not God’s righteous angels. God gave them over to their own desires:

“They remembered not His hand, nor the day when He delivered them from the enemy. How He had wrought His signs in Egypt, and His wonders in the field of Zoan: And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink. He sent (permitted) divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them. He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust. He destroyed (gave up) their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost. He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts. He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending (letting loose) EVIL ANGELS among them.” (Psalm 78:42-49).

God Fought to Save the Egyptians:

Why were all the firstborn killed in Egypt? They had spiritually crucified Christ, “the Firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). John tells us that Christ was, not only crucified in Jerusalem, but was “spiritually” crucified in “Sodom and Egypt” (Revelation 11:8). Thus their rejection of Christ (the Firstborn of all creation) backfired upon them and opened the way for the destructive evil angel to enter and kill all their firstborn sons. Yes, man “becomes the victim of his own destructive plans.” (Isaiah 7:16).

Yet in all this Christ was bearing their sins. Paul wrote that “He (Christ) by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9). Isaiah tells us:

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isaiah 63:9; this verse would also apply to both the Egyptians and the Israelites who left Egypt).  

At the time of the plagues of Egypt, God was pleading for their salvation just as much as He was pleading for the Israelites’ salvation. As the Egyptians raced to catch the Israelites as they crossed the sea on dry land, Scripture says:

“And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” (Exodus 14:24-25).

According to the view of the Egyptians, God was trying to slow them down in order to drown them, but this is not how God’s righteousness works. God was slowing them down in order for them to think twice and turn around so they would not drown.

In all of these plagues God was pleading for both the Israelites and the Egyptians to turn away from the false gods of Egypt and to trust Him; for “none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.”