The island of Malta takes its name from its production of an abundance of honey. When Paul’s ship wrecks just off the shore of Malta the inlet looks like the promised land to those who swim far to shore, float holding onto a piece of their split ship, and to those who had been struggling in the raging storm. First noticed is the generosity of the Malta natives. Their type of kindness Is unusual to the shipwrecked men who are used to arms length hospitality. The natives build a bonfire of hope in the rain and cold.
As they are heaping the fire with brushwood, Paul joins in the work of serving others as he puts his bundle of brushwood onto the fire and a viper/poisonous snake leaps out of the fire’s heat to bite him. As the snake lock jaws onto Paul’s hand the natives speak to one another about Paul, still in chains. They say that he is a murderer who has cleated death’s grip once by escaping from the sea but now death comes for him within the fangs of a viper.
They see that Paul somehow shakes the creature off his hand and then watch him because they are expecting him to swell up or drop dead. They wait. Nothing happens to Paul after the viper bites him. The natives marvel. Now the natives change their minds and say he is a god. These are extreme opinions.
The natives, and sometimes us too, look at calamities (shipwreck and snakebite) as God’s judgement. Paul will spend time with them teaching faith in Christ and hopefully their thoughts will modify. Yet, lest we condemn the innocent and misread the excellence of the earth, all caution may be used in our opinions too. Tempered opinions are motivations to turn to Holy Spirit for help to know truth, and our prayerful patience aids us.
And as for Paul, this experience on Malta was just the opposite of his experience at Lystra– where people first offered sacrifices honoring Paul and Barnabas, then Paul gives witness to Christ Resurrected and reactively a large portion of the crowd, who were riled up by out-of-town visiting adversaries, stops Paul. This singular episode in Lystra ends with angry persecutors stoning Paul, leaving him for dead outside the city gates and Paul miraculously was alive again.
Our Scripture here alerts us to Holy Spirit guidance. Without Christ a person may fluctuate to the extreme of sacrificial idol worship (of people) or to the other extremes of mob mentality. Yet with Christ secured in our souls we are focused off of ourselves into service and obedience to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God’s Principle of Heavenly Father’s faithfulness.
After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. Acts 28:1-6