Summary: Paul safely escapes shipwreck only to have a snake come out of the fire and bite him. Instead of panicking or making a big show of how "bullet proof" he was, the Apostle simply goes about the business of serving God. It’s a great lesson for us when we fac
Doesn’t it seem like something (or someone) didn’t want Paul to reach Rome? Angry mobs, corrupt leaders (both Israeli and Roman), then even the wind and waves seem to conspire to destroy Paul or crash him up against the rocks—anything to keep him from reaching God’s intended destination. But as Paul completes his journey, and Luke completes the book of Acts, we see the final attempts of the enemy to thwart God’s plan, and God turning what Satan meant for evil into good.
I picture 276 souls, walking up out of the surf, tired, wet, but grateful to be on land after their ship crashed up on a reef just shy of the beach. Shipwrecks were common, survivors of shipwrecks, not so common.
Malta is an island about 18 miles long and 8 miles wide some 470 miles from Fair Havens, Crete, where they started this journey, and 320 from Rome, their destination. It was settled by Phoenicians (just north of Israel on the coast) and the word Malta comes from a Canaanite word meaning “refuge.” The island is well suited for ships and has many harbors. It was a popular place for retiring Roman army officials, though the Romans considered the people barbarians because they spoke a Phoenician dialect. They were also hospitable, which is just what Paul and his shipwrecked companions needed.
2 – 6
This somewhat unusual story (though for Paul, how can we say anything is “usual”?) shows that when God promised that Paul would arrive in Rome, nothing, I mean nothing, will stand in his way. Isn’t it apropos that a snake (Satan is called “that serpent of old”) bites him. The reptile must have been made very lethargic in the cold but came to life in the movement and heat of the fire.
The people were very superstitious and figured “Justice” had come to finish the job of punishing Paul. When nothing happened to him they did an about face and decided instead of a murderer, he must be a god.
A point here: about the snake. According to a disputed part of Mark’s gospel, Jesus did say that “17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mark 16:17-18). A problem has arisen out of those verses – mainly snake handling on the one end, a focus on the miraculous on the other.
Let me just say that Paul focuses not on the miracle, but on the job at hand. He practically takes the miracle in stride (more on that later). But if you are doing something (like handling a snake or anything) to prove God has blessed you, it’s not likely going to work (and I’ve seen this happen), and even if it does work, it’s not likely God doing it.
It’s likely that people will misunderstand you as well as you seek to follow God’s direction. If you are in a trial, some will say that it proves God isn’t real “for how could a loving God allow…” But as you shine out His love, despite the trial, or as you even see Him work miracles through you for the gospel, people might to venerate you – both are wrong wrong wrong!
7 – 10
Paul and his group get a special invite to “the first man of the island.” Malta was under Roman jurisdiction but allowed some self rule. “Malta fever” is now known to be caused by microbes in goat’s milk. Its symptoms were like dysentery and a person could be sick from several months to several years. This is the only instance where praying and the laying on of hands is mentioned in Acts. As Paul then healed many others through the power of the Holy Spirit, he undoubtedly also preached the gospel. “Be ready in season and out.”
11 – 16
You could start sailing again in mid-February to mid-March. This was probably another grain ship which arrived in just one days time at Sicily’s chief city. Rhegium is the modern day Reggio on the “toe” of Italy. They then put in at Puteoli, which is now called Pozzuoli, which is where grain ships would offload before a later emperor built a port closer to Rome itself.
It’s possible that Jews from Rome were in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, decades earlier and had returned to Rome as Christians. They then told their friend what had happened and the gospel spread. They stay there a week either for the ship’s cargo to be unloaded or for some delay for Julius, the centurion who had charge of Paul.