THE WINTER IN MALTA (ACTS 28:1-10). After reaching the safety of the shore, the shipwrecked victims learned the island was called Malta. They were in an unfamiliar spot (a place of two seas) since the usual harbor was Valletta. Malta was located off the island of Sicily, 90 miles from Syracuse, the commercial center of the western Mediterranean. The island occupied a strategic position in the ancient world. Endowed with good harbors safe from the stormy waters of the sea, it offered a convenient haven for commercial traffic moving from both East-West and North-South..
The island is eighteen miles long and eight miles wide. It was barren and arid, with few natural resources other than building stone. The eastern half, however, was somewhat productive, with olive oil, wool, and lapdogs being mentioned as its profitable commodities. The island was inhabited as early as 2000 B.C. and was colonized by the Phoenicians in 1000 B.C. The Romans granted Malta the status of a municipium, which allowed them to control their own domestic affairs.
Cicero and others speak of the beauty and elegance of the houses on Malta, and of the prosperity of the island, indicating a high degree of civilization and wealth. Under Augustus, the island was administered by a procurator, who was known by the people of Malta as “chief” or “first man” of the island. Publius held this position when Paul was shipwrecked there, and according to tradition, he became the first Christian convert in Malta. From this time there developed a Christian community. Catacombs from the fourth and fifth centuries give evidence of Christian influence on the island. With the fall of Rome, Malta fell into the hands of the Arabs in the ninth century.
The islanders uttered unintelligible sounds to those shipwrecked. They spoke their native tongue Punic and showed unusual kindness.
It was raining and cold. The shipwrecked were both wet and cold from the sea; so that nothing was more needful and more agreeable to them than a large fire. The islanders built a fire. However, Paul could not bear to do nothing; he had to make himself useful; he gathered a pile of brushwood. As great a man as he was, Paul was not ashamed to be useful in the smallest thing as well as the greatest. His servant’s heart is exposed. As his hand came close to the fire, a viper driven out of the brush by the heat, fastened on his hand.
What was Paul’s reaction? Calm, cool and collected! The islanders were excited. They expected him to swell up or suddenly fall over dead! As if it did not matter, Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. At first, the islanders concluded that Justice (that is, the goddess of Divine Justice) must rid the world of this prisoner, even though he had escaped death in the shipwreck. The populace quickly changed their mind when nothing happened; they thought he must be a god—a reminder of the fickleness of human opinion whether good or bad.
Was the viper a weapon of Satan to get Paul out of the way? The storm did not drown him!
Near the shipwreck site was the estate of Publius. He graciously received the large group as his guests for three days until quarters that were more permanent could be arranged for the winter. The kind treatment of the travelers brought an unexpected dividend to him in return. His father had become ill with recurrent fever and dysentery. The physician Luke was present for an accurate diagnosis. Paul, however, prayed for the man and laid hands upon him, and God brought miraculous healing. When the news of his healing circulated through the island, many others who were ailing came to Paul and likewise experienced the removal of their diseases.
Throughout their stay on Malta, the shipwrecked travelers, who had lost all their possessions experienced continual acts of hospitality from the islanders. When the travelers were ready to sail, the islanders furnished them with the supplies they needed.