The Need of the Whole World: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Romans)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;

Their throat is an open tomb.

Here for the first time Paul gets specific. He talks about the chief outlet through which the sinner can display his sin. He addresses the sinners’ throats, tongues, lips, and mouths. Paul shows his familiarity with the Old Testament by drawing on King David’s prayer for protection in Psalm 5.

1 Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. 2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. 3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. 4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. 5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. 6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

David prays to God for guidance

7 But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. 8 Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. 9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue. 10 Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee. 11 But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. 12 For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
--Psalms 5:1-12 (KJv)

Nothing is more offensive than the stench rising from an open tomb. The apostle graphically depicts the conversation of the wicked by likening the filth that arises from their mouths with the stench of the open tomb. As an unsealed tomb allows those who pass by to see and smell what is inside, the unregenerate person’s open throat—that is, the foul words that come from it—reveal the decay of his heart.

With their tongues they have practiced deceit. The sugared tongue, which is used to butter up the boss, is next listed by Paul as characteristic of sinful men. He accuses the world of having the Madison Avenue approach to life which makes something out of nothing and promises what cannot be performed. James talked about the tongue, and he agreed with Paul. He declared: “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:2-10).

The poison of asps is under their lips. This accusation reminds me of the final speech of Zophar, one of Job’s critical friends: "But suddenly the food in their bellies turns sour, a poisonous venom in their stomach. They will vomit the wealth they swallowed. God won’t let them keep it down. They will suck the poison of cobras. The viper will kill them. Job 20:14-16 (NLT) The poison of the asp was stored in a bag under the lips of the serpent. When he spoke of this deadly poison Paul probably had in mind the Egyptian

cobra, naja haje, the reptile used by Pharaoh Tutankhamen as his imperial symbol. Of this evil and violent man David says, “They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips” (Ps 140:3). The natural man’s human speech is likened to this poison.


14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Psalm 10:7 declares: “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity” The point is that man’s mouth, which was created to speak the truth of God and praise Him continually, has been perverted to speaking of Satan and praising him through cursing and bitterness. You do not have to teach a man to curse; it is the common expression of the bitterness within him that is rooted in personal sin. If you listen to what is being said today, you know that cursing is in the vocabulary of all men. Whether you are a ditch digger or a college professor, you will on occasion curse or think it to yourself. Some people are better at using profanity than any other language.


15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

Their feet are swift to shed blood. Paul now turns his attention, not to man’s words, but to his deeds. Paul is quoting from Isaiah 59:7; “Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths.” The feet which were created to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth have in every era of history readily carried men violently to commit injustice and war with their fellowman {1}(Prov 1:7–19). Their feet are swift denotes the eagerness of men to shed blood—commit a crime. However, one doesn’t need to shed blood to be a murderer, for we read in 1 John 3:15: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” In the eyes of the world, hatred is not a very wicked thing, but God calls it murder. A moment’s reflection will show that it is murder in embryo. The motive is there, although the act might not be committed. Thus, whoever hates his brother is a murderer. When John says that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him, he does not mean that a murderer cannot be saved. He simply means that a man who habitually hates his fellows is a potential murderer and is not saved.

{1} Prov. 1.7-19(KJV): 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9 For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. 11 If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: 12 Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: 13 We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: 14 Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: 15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: 16 For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. 17 Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. 18 And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.


16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

Destruction and misery are in their ways. They leave a trail of ruin and misery. The same thought is expressed in Isaiah 59:7: “Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths.” Remember, the apostle is talking about religious people. They ruin the happiness and reputation of others, and leave behind destruction and misery. They tend to destroy the peace of all those they come into contact with. The reason that destruction and misery follow them is given in verse 17.

It should also be noted that they not only cause destruction and misery; they will receive the same if they continue in an unrighteous path. Calamity and misery always follow the sinner’s futile search for happiness apart from Jesus Christ.


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