“Italy is shaped like a boot.” Nearly all of us have been told this so we might easily recognize the Italian peninsula. Sicily is the triangular shaped island at the tip of Italy’s boot—the object being “kicked.” Approximately 60 miles south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea rests Malta, a small island with an area of about 95 square miles and a strategic location.
Malta is mentioned by name only once in the New Testament, in Acts 28:1. It is called Melita in the King James Version. This island is important because of its role in the circumstances surrounding the shipwreck that occurred on the apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. Briefly, the background for this journey is that in Acts 25:10-12, Paul appealed his trial to Caesar; and Festus, the Roman governor of Judea who had succeeded Felix, affirmed the appeal. He told Paul, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!”
The window of time for Paul’s journey to Rome included at least a portion of the winter months (see Acts 27:12), a time when the Mediterranean Sea is most likely to see strong storms. Indeed, Paul and the men sailing with him encountered a fierce storm (see vv. 13-44) between the time they left Crete and the time they were washed up ashore on Malta.
Malta became part of the Roman Empire in 218 BC, but since it previously had been a part of the empire of Carthage, the inhabitants continued to speak the Carthaginian language. In Acts 28:2, the translators of the King James Version rendered Luke’s description of the local inhabitants of the island as “the barbarous people.” Luke meant they spoke a foreign language.
When the people saw a snake bite Paul, they concluded He was receiving justice for evil deeds he must have committed, but when he survived the snakebite, they changed their minds and thought he was a god (see vv. 2-6). With both assumptions, the people were wrong. Their errors should be a warning to us not to jump to quick conclusions about people’s character based on external circumstances alone. God used Paul to heal numerous inhabitants of Malta of various diseases (see vv. 7-9).
“After three months” had passed (v. 11) the travelers left Malta and came to Syracuse at Sicily, then they journeyed to Rhegium on the Italian peninsula. Then they traveled to Puteoli, and then to Rome at last (see vv. 12-14).