The Apostle Paul at Malta by Adam Elsheimer
The above painting actually depicts two separate sections from the book of Acts (Acts 27:41 - 28:1 and 28:2 - 6). The background shows the tumultuous Mediterranean Sea and a small beacon burning on the top of a cliff. This represents the shipwreck Paul experienced near Malta (Luke was with him) after the vessel he was on ran into stormy weather sometime after leaving Crete and then was "lost" at sea for at least two weeks. There were 276 people on board the sailing vessel he was on (Acts 27:37) during his fourth missionary journey.
40. Then they cut away the anchors and left them in the sea; at the same time, they loosened the bands of the rudders and, hoisting the foresail into the wind, made for the shore. 41. But coming upon a place where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the bow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was broken by the violence of the waves . . . 44. As for the rest, some came from the ship on boards, and others on some of the things from the ship; and so it came to pass that everyone was brought safely to the land. 28:1. Now when they (Paul, Luke and others) were safe, they learned that the island was called Melita (Malta - Acts 27:41 to 28:1, HBFV throughout).
The second scene depicted, in the bottom left half of the painting, is Paul shaking off into a campfire a viper that had wrapped itself around his arm. The pagan natives of Malta first thought that fate caused the viper to attack the apostle for some serious crime he committed. They soon change their mind when he is unharmed by the snake (a fulfillment of one of Jesus' prophecies regarding those who preach the gospel - see Mark 16:18) and went to the other extreme of thinking he was a god!
2. And the barbarians showed us uncommon kindness; for they kindled a fire because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold and received all of us. 3. But when Paul gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and wound itself around his hand.
4. And when the barbarians saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt, this man is a murderer; although he has been saved from the sea, justice does not permit him to live." 5. But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no injury. 6. Now they were expecting him to become swollen, or suddenly fall down dead. But when they watched for a long time and saw that no harm came to him, they changed their opinion and said that he was a god (Acts 28:2 - 6).
While he was on Malta an important official named Publius hosted the apostle and others for three days (Acts 28:7). During his stay he not only heals Publius' father of a sickness (possibly malaria), but also MANY others (verses 8 - 9). After spending three months on the island he, and those who survived the shipwreck, got on a ship from Alexandria and sailed to the port of Syracuse on Sicilia (verses 11 - 12).
As an interesting side note, at one time some scholars thought Luke (the writer of Acts who accompanied Paul) made an error in referencing Publius' title as the "chief man of the island" (Acts 28:7, KJV). Inscriptions, however, were eventually found that verified Luke accurately recorded his title (Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, section on Publius of Malta).