After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2The 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. 3Paul 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. 4When 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.” 5He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6They 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. 7Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. 9After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.
As the ship broke up, everyone swam for the beach, or grabbed onto a plank or some part of the ship and rode it to shore. The island where they had landed was Malta. Remember there were 276 men on board (likely no women as these were sailers, soldiers, and prisoners on board a merchant ship). The people who lived on the island were kind and built a fire to help them warm up and dry out. Paul, helping to gather firewood, put a bundle of sticks on the fire when a snake that had been hiding in the sticks attached itself to his hand. Now, this must have been a poisonous snake, for the people who lived on the island expected him to die immediately! They thought he must have been a murderer, on whom God had visited just punishment. But Paul simply shook the snake off into the fire and went on about what he was doing. Since he did not die after all, the people decided he must be a god. But, in keeping with what he usually did when people had that idea, I would bet that Paul told them no, that he was only a man, a servant of Jesus Christ, and it was through Jesus that miracles had occurred.
When I was a child, and I hear it is still true today, there were sects in the Tennessee woods that handled snakes as a part of their services. They would have used this passage as a rationale for that bizarre behavior. I would think that God never invites us to be stupid in his name – and handling snakes and expecting not to be harmed is stupid (except perhaps for herpetologists who use proper gear and techniques to study snakes.) But God had saved Paul from the religious fanatics in Jerusalem who wished to kill him, and from the shipwreck, and now he saved him from the snake. God was sending Paul to Rome, and was going to get him there!
The leader of the island, a man named Publius, invited Paul and his party to his home, where he entertained them for three days with great hospitality. But this man’s father was ill with a fever and dysentery. Paul visited the elderly gentleman and prayed for him and he was cured. After that, all the people brought those who were ill to Paul for prayers, and they were cured. They stayed in that place for three months, through the winter, and were honored by the grateful people. I think we could surmise that Paul preached the gospel to these people as well, for he never passed up an opportunity to tell how the Lord had changed his life!