Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shipwrecked and Snakebit...How much more can one Apostle take?!

I like to try to cover a chapter in a blog, but chapter 28 is neatly broken into two distinct parts: Paul's winter on Malta and Paul's arrival in Rome and his minstry there.  So I'm going to follow the natural break and split this chapter into two posts.

Also...I haven't decided what I'm going to study next, and this gives me a while to decide.

We last left Paul and his shipmates washing safely ashore, with all their hair intact : ).

In the first verse of Ch. 28, Paul's company learns they've washed up on Malta. The natives they met were very good to them, welcoming them, starting fires to warm them.  Paul, never one to rest when there was work to be done helped by gathering wood.  He placed the wood on the fire, and out jumped a snake and bit him! Or did it...?

The KJV, NIV, and ESV all use the word "fastened." The NLT uses the word "bit." My father-in-law says, "Maybe the snake didn't bite him. Maybe it only wrapped around his arm, so it looked like it bit him." I've never determined if he actually believes this or if he's just making the argument to make me think (he does that somtimes.  It's very helpful, and I appreciate it).  I probably never will figure it out for sure.

I think the snake bit Paul.  A couple of reasons:  First, put yourself in the snake's shoes (no not "snake shoes" though I'd love to have a pair. Focus people!)  He's found a nice cozy niche in a woodpile and decided to winter there, when all of a sudden, his "house" has been thrown in a fire, and his tail is getting singed!  If your house was suddenly tossed into a fire, wouldn't you come out fighting?!  In my admittedly limited experience, a snake that is threatened strikes, and this snake was certainly threatened. 

Second, I feel certain the people observing the incident were smart enough to tell the difference between a snake wrapped around a man's arm and one hanging from a man's arm by its teeth.  They assumed, at first, that some providential power was judging Paul for his sins.  The shipwreck didn't do him in, so "the gods" immediately found another way to handle the problem.  But Paul didn't die.  In fact the only action Luke records for Paul is shaking "the creature into the fire." No exclamation of fear, no expression of pain.  He merely shook it off and went about his business.  When Paul suffered no harm, the people decided, "He must be a god!"  They're a fickle bunch, aren't they?

Also I think claiming the snake didn't bite him, is somehow taking glory away from God. Or at least giving Him less than the maximum possible glory.  I guess if the snake hadn't bitten him, that in itself would have been a miracle, being outside of a snake's instinctive behavior.  It's a greater miracle if the snake bit him with its deadly venom, and he didn't die.  Right?  Well, given the choice between a little miracle or a big one, I'll take the big one every time.  : ) How about you?

I have a simple theory why Paul made no expression of fear at the sight (and bite) of the snake. He wasn't afraid.  God had promised him many weeks, possibly months, before, that he would see Rome.  God had just seen him and 276 other people safely through a huge storm and a great shipwreck.  God didn't do all of that just to allow Paul to die of snakebite on some tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Right?

Remember those fickle islanders? They're about to become a lot less so.  The island's chief, a man named Publius, was near at hand and decided to entertain the visitors for a few days. During this time, Paul found out that Publius's father was suffering mightily with fever and dysentery.  Paul visited him, prayed for him, and healed him.  After this, Paul got pretty popular with the sick people! (I imagine that was a pretty normal state of affairs for him).  They came to him for healing, and received it. The ESV says in verse 9, "...the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured." Paul didn't turn any away. I believe when he left that island three months later, there was not a sick person to be found.

A couple of ideas for commenting...

1. Did the snake bite Paul? Or did it "fasten on his hand" in some other way that somehow fooled the natives?

2. Imagine you were the first to see the shipwreck victims washing ashore.  Describe what you see. All you writers, consider this an opportunity to excercise your improvisational muscles.

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