“After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” (Acts 28:1–6 (ESV)
The island on which the Apostle Paul and the other passengers and crew who were shipwrecked was Malta. Malta means “refuge.” How appropriate and providential.
Luke records that the native people of the island displayed unusual kindness to the castaways. Remember, the storm was still raging and an autumn cold had settled over the island. The stranded voyagers were in danger of experiencing hypothermia. However, the islanders build a fire by which the passengers could get warm and dry.
Displaying his spiritual gift of helps, Paul gathered a bundle of sticks for kindling. He then put them on the fire. It was at that precise moment that a viper came out of the fire because of the heat and fashioned its jaws upon the apostle’s hand.
The islanders had the common perspective, which remains to this day, that bad things happen to people who are deserving of them (see John 9:1-2). The islanders must have observed that Paul was a Roman prisoner. They concluded among themselves, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” In other words, Paul may have cheated divine justice from the sea, but justice had caught up with him by the snake’s bite.
However, Paul shook off the snake from his hand and threw it into the fire. Astoundingly, the apostle suffered no harm. The natives waited for Paul to begin feeling and showing the affects from the snake bite. None came.
Like the Lystrans (Acts 14:11-12), who proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be gods, the Maltese people also said that the apostle must be a god. What a drastic change in their perspective. However, Paul was a servant of the One, True God.
The story is told that on one rainy day, a man accompanied by two women arrived at Northfield, hoping to enroll his daughter in D.L. Moody’s school for young women. The three needed help in getting their luggage from the railway depot to the hotel, so the visitor “drafted” a rather common-looking man with a horse and wagon, assuming he was a local cabby. The “cabby” said he was waiting for students, but the visitor ordered him to take them to the hotel. The visitor was shocked when the “cabby” did not charge him, and was even more shocked to discover that the “cabby” was D.L. Moody himself! Moody was a leader because he knew how to be a servant.
Soli deo Gloria!