Vol.III, Feb.’97


The Destroyer (Ex 12,23)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The first text in the book of Exodus referring to the holy Angels led us to the burning bush. "The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the flame of fire" and God spoke to him on this "holy ground". God assured Moses to be "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" and revealed him His name, "I Am Who Am", manifesting Himself thus to be utterly transcendent and at the same time present to all that is. He spoke to him about His salvific plan with His people and the task Moses should fulfill in it.

1. God had heard "the cry of the people of Israel" and decided: "I will send you to the Pharaoh that you may bring forth My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." (Ex 3,9-10) We may not judge what made Moses answer: "Who am I that I should go to the Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" (3,11) "They will not believe me or listen to my voice!" (4,1) Was it timidity, was it fear of the power of the Egyptians? What made him reply: "Oh my Lord, send, I pray, some other person" (4,13)?

Certainly, He still lacked the fullness faith and confidence in the Almighty Word of God. He could not yet imagine, what it means, when the Almighty God says: "I WILL BE WITH YOU!" (3,12) Moses had not much experience of God, "Who makes man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind" (4,11), Who will not let man be tempted beyond his strength (cf. 1 Cor 10,13). God did not delude Moses; He spoke of the difficulties which will come up: "I will harden (Pharaoh’s) heart, so that he will not let the people go" (4,21); but He provided also the means for overcoming them: He assured him, "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak." He gave him Aaron as a spokesman; He gave him "a rod" (4,2), with which he could show God’s power and, that He had sent him.

2. Humanly speaking, Moses had reason to hesitate before such a mission. What later on St. Paul declares, proved true here already: "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6,12) For, "the whole of man’s history has been the story of our combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day" (Catechism 409). When Moses went to the Pharaoh and proved God’s will through miracles, "Pharaoh summoned the wise man and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts" (7,11).

What "art" was it? St. Thomas Aquinas explains: "The magicians of Pharaoh made true serpents and frogs by the power of the demons (Ex 7,12; 8,7)", for such works are not true miracles, but lie within the natural capacity of the pure spirits over the material world (Summa Theologica, I, 114, 4). - Here we recall from the Book of Revelation the "loud voice from the temple telling the seven Angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.’" And the Angels went and poured out the bowls on the earth and there was "foul and evil sores", and "the rivers and the fountains of water ... became blood", "a great earthquake" and "great hailstones, heavy as a hundredweight, dropped on men from heaven" (Rev 16, God orders the Angel to do miracles similar to those which Moses and the magicians did, so that we sincerely believe what the magicians did with the power of the demons, Moses could do through the help of the holy Angels as the servants of their common Lord and God (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I, 110, 4)!

Moses finds himself not just sent from God to the Egyptians, but in the midst of the spirits, as our Lord foretells later on His Apostles: "He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out. ... Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves!" (Mt 10,16).

3. However, this spiritual battle was not to be decided by the creatures! God Himself wanted to enter the field, showing the powerlessness of the demons and the humility of the Angels in serving Him alone. The final freedom of the people of Israel was achieved through "the Pascal Lamb" and Its saving Blood (Ex 12; cf. Catechism 608): "They shall take every man a lamb ... for a household, a lamb without blemish, a male a year old (killed) they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread... none of you shall go out ... For the Lord will pass over to slay 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 slay you." (Ex 12,3.5.7-8.23)

The "destroyer" (exterminator), to whom St. Paul refers twice (1 Cor 10,10 and Heb 11,28), is the servant of the Lord, the Angel (St. Thomas Aq., In I Cor X,2; Nr. 528). However, St. Thomas even raises the question, if such a mission of death does not seem to be more a matter for a fallen Angel (In Heb XI,6; Nr 622). A priori, it could be an evil spirit, who out of fear and terror of the Lord would not touch those marked by God, namely, by the blood of the paschal lamb, (see Job), who, nevertheless, would willingly slay the first born of Egypt out of sheer malice and delight in evil. Tradition, though, understands this "Destroyer" to be a holy angel, who ministers divine justice here as in other places (so the Sodomites, Gen 19,1, David, 2 Sam 24,16 or the Assyrians, killing in one night a hundred and eighty-five thousand, 2 Kings 19,35). For "to punish the evil is not bad. ... Punishment is a work of justice", says St. Thomas (l.c.). A fallen Angel would do this only in servile obedience to God, at an express divine command. The New Testament also offers clear examples of Holy Angels executing divine chastisements: Herod may serve as one example: "An Angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died." (Acts 12,23) In His Second Coming Christ will come with "all the Angels" to judge (cf. Mt 25,31 ff.); they shall "gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and of evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire" (Mt 13,41; see the entire Apocalypse).

4. As the good Angels find their only pleasure in serving the Lord and honoring His name, so had it to be with Moses: he could just transmit the plan of God to the people, and then he stood back before the Lord who passes with the Angel "to execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt" (Ex 12,12). But woe, if he would not have transmitted the word and prepared the people; he would have become guilty of their death!

The task of Moses passed in the new Testament to us priests! Today the priests explain the will of God to the people; they assure the people that God hears the prayer and will help in the right time; the priests offer the Lamb to eat with unleavened bread in the Holy Eucharist and the Saving Blood in the sacrament of Penance. If they don’t do it, they become guilty of the sins of the people (cf. Ez 3,16-21). - May the holy Angel inspire us with holy fear of the Lord, so that we are found with faith and obedient like Moses in the ministry of the Eucharistic Lamb, who takes away the sins of the World, and of the people of God who suffer, exposed to the subtle oppressions of the enemy of God.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC