In several passages the word designates a supernatural agent of destruction, or destroying angel, executing Divine judgment.
(1) In Exodus 12:23, of the "destroyer" who smote the first-born in Egypt, again referred to under the same title in Hebrews 11:28 the Revised Version (British and American) (the King James Version "he that destroyed").
(2) In Job 33:22, "the destroyers" (literally, "they that cause to die") = the angels of death that are ready to take away a man's life during severe illness. No exact parallel to this is found in the Old Testament. The nearest approach is "the angel that destroyed the people" by pestilence (2 Samuel 24:16,17 parallel 1 Chronicles 21:15,16); the angel that smote the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35 = Isaiah 37:36 parallel 2 Chronicles 32:21); "angels of evil" (Psalms 78:49).
(3) In the Apocrypha, "the destroyer" is once referred to as "the minister of punishment" (Revised Version; literally, "him who was punishing"), who brought death into the world (The Wisdom of Solomon 18:22-25).
In later Jewish theology (the Targums and Midrash), the "destroyer" or "angel of death" appears under the name Sammael (i.e. the poison of God), who was once an arch-angel before the throne of God, and who caused the serpent to tempt Eve. According to Weber, he is not to be distinguished from Satan. The chief distinction between the "destroyer" of early thought and the Sammael of later Judaism is that the former was regarded as the emissary of Yahweh, and subservient to His will, and sometimes was not clearly distinguished from Yahweh Himself, whereas the latter was regarded as a perfectly distinct individuality, acting in independence or semi-independence, and from purely malicious and evil motives. The change was largely due to the influence of Persian dualism, which made good and evil to be independent powers.
D. Miall Edwards
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