Acts 28:1-5
Acts 28:1 (KJB)
And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.
When all the people had escaped the destruction of the boat, they then found out that the island which they were on was called Melita. In either the Phoenician or Canaanite language, the name means “refuge.” It now called Malta. It is about 174 miles (280 km) from Italy and 56 miles (90 km) from the coast of Sicily. Probably in the history of both of those civilizations, they named the island “Melita” for the same purpose of refuge from the violent Mediterranean storms. The central position of Melita caused Rome to make it a naval station where ships could be dispatched on a moment’s notice with good position.
Acts 28:2 (KJB)
And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.
Barbarians - Not in the bad sense but because they did not speak Greek
The people of Malta had descended from Phoenician colonists and probably spoke a dialect close to Hebrew but not Hebrew itself. The people on the shore no doubt was seeing what happened to the boat and as the people were coming ashore they helped them. They had showed great kindness in response to their dire position. Since it was cold because it was late October, they had started a fire on the beach to warm the people up. It was still raining and that would have added to the coldness of the people who were coming out of the water, probably all chilled. The fire on the beach not only warmed the people from the boat but it was also visible to those who were still coming on to the land and could make their way toward it.
Acts 28:3 (KJB)
And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
Paul, knowing the fire would need more fuel had gone out to find more sticks and branches. This was the mindset of Paul. He did not ask others to do what he was not willing to do. When he brought the kindling wood close to the fire, the heat must have caused a viper to come out of the kindling which Paul was carrying. Before Paul could get rid of it, it fastened itself to Paul’s hand thus biting him. The viper is a poisonous snake and should have killed Paul. Today there are no vipers on Malta and some people try and claim that the Bible is in error here by stating that it was a viper. The viper population probably disappeared by attrition or by being hunted and destroyed. A lot can happen in 2000 years.
Acts 28:4 (KJB)
And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.
Vengeance - Punishment, judicial penalty or sentence
When the local residents saw the snake fastened to Paul’s hand, they probably thought for a moment that he was a criminal, probably a murderer, having escaped the sea, vengeance for his crimes was now being taken. They might have assessed this because Paul was with the other prisoners. The people of Melita had a heathen goddess of justice and probably thought that she was taking vengeance on Paul for committing crimes. These people were like Job’s friends who thought that every bit of trouble or misery was some type of judgment.
Acts 28:5 (KJB)
And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.
Paul did not yell or scream, instead he just shook the snake off into the fire and he suffered no consequences from the venom. Here is a good spiritual lesson for the Christians. If Satan hangs on to us trying to get us to sin or doubt God’s goodness, we will not be touched by it because he cannot affect our salvation or our stand with God. We just shake him off into the fires of hell where he will spend eternity. (Mark 16:18 KJV) They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. It is unfortunate there are many stupid people out there who think that the serpent which clung to Paul was a go ahead for others to handle deadly snakes, especially in the charismatic movement. What happened to Paul was a spiritual lesson for us that we will take up serpents, that is, be attacked by Satan, but it will not affect our salvation one bit.