DESTROYER, THE (הַמַּשְׁחִ֔ית; ὁ ὀλοθρεύων, the destroyer; ὀλοθρευτής, G3904, destroyer). A superhuman being, used as an instrument of God’s wrath in the execution of His judgment. It is difficult to say whether this is a good angel used by God as an agent of destruction, or Satan or one of his minions. If a good angel, God could use it to bring both blessing and destruction.
The term is used only twice (Exod 12:23 [cf. Heb 11:28]; 1 Cor 10:10). In the Exodus passage, it is used in connection with the tenth plague of Egypt, the destruction of the Egyptian first-born. In the 1 Corinthians passage Paul warned against grumbling, as some Israelites did in the wilderness and were destroyed by the Destroyer. It is thought by some that the Destroyer referred to by Paul was the fiery serpents God sent to bring death to the complaining Israelites.
In the time of David the Lord sent an angel to smite the people by means of a plague because David had made a census of the people (2 Sam 24:16). In Hezekiah’s time in a single night an angel destroyed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35). The prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision a number of angels executing judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah (Ezek 9:5-7). The psalmist petitioned that the angel of the Lord would drive his enemies like dust before the wind (Ps 35:5, 6). The composer of Psalm 78:49 believed that angels could smite one’s enemies upon God’s command. In the OT Apoc., Jeremiah warned that the angel of God who was with the Israelites would punish them if they apostatized (Ep Jer 6:5-7), and in 2 Maccabees 3:24-26, Heliodorus was whipped by angels when he attempted to plunder the Temple at Jerusalem.
W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, I (1961), 201, 202.