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Acts 28:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

They knew that the island was called Melita - There were two islands of this name: one in the Adriatic Gulf, or Gulf of Venice, on the coast of Illyricum, and near to Epidaurus; the other in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and Africa, and now called Malta. It is about fifty miles from the coast of Sicily; twenty miles long, and twelve miles in its greatest breadth; and about sixty miles in circumference. It is one immense rock of white, soft freestone, with about one foot depth of earth on an average, and most of this has been brought from Sicily! It produces cotton, excellent fruits, and fine honey; from which it appears the island originally had its name; for μελι, meli, and in the genitive case, μελιτος, melitos, signifies honey. Others suppose that it derived its name from the Phoenicians, who established a colony in it, and made it a place of refuge, when they extended their traffic to the ocean, because it was furnished with excellent harbours: (on the E. and W. shores): hence, in their tongue, it would be called מליטה Meliteh, escape or refuge, from מלט malat, to escape.

The Phaeacians were probably the first inhabitants of this island: they were expelled by the Phoenicians; the Phoenicians by the Greeks; the Greeks by the Carthaginians; the Carthaginians by the Romans, who possessed it in the time of the apostle; the Romans by the Goths; the Goths by the Saracens; the Saracens by the Sicilians, under Roger, earl of Sicily, in 1190. Charles V., emperor of Germany, took possession of it by his conquest of Naples and Sicily; and he gave it in 1525 to the knights of Rhodes, who are also called the knights of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1798, this island surrendered to the French, under Bonaparte, and in 1800, after a blockade of two years, the island being reduced by famine, surrendered to the British, under whose dominion it still remains (1814.) Every thing considered, there can be little doubt that this is the Melita at which St. Paul was wrecked, and not at that other island in the Adriatic, or Venitian Gulf, as high up northward as Illyricum. The following reasons make this greatly evident:

  1. Tradition has unvaryingly asserted this as the place of the apostle's shipwreck.
  • The island in the Venitian Gulf, in favor of which Mr. Bryant so learnedly contends, is totally out of the track in which the euroclydon must have driven the vessel.
  • It is said, in Acts 28:11, that another ship of Alexandria, bound, as we must suppose, for Italy, and very probably carrying wheat thither, as St. Paul's vessel did, ( Acts 27:38;), had been driven out of its course of sailing, by stress of weather, up to the Illyricum Melita, and had been for that cause obliged to winter in the isle. Now this is a supposition which, as I think, is too much of a supposition to be made.
  • In St. Paul's voyage to Italy from Melita, on board the Alexandrian ship that had wintered there, he and his companions landed at Syracuse, Acts 28:12, Acts 28:13, and from thence went to Rhegium. But if it had been the Illyrican Melita, the proper course of the ship would have been, first to Rhegium, before it reached Syracuse, and needed not to have gone to Syracuse at all; whereas, in a voyage from the present Malta to Italy, it was necessary to reach Syracuse, in Sicily, before the ship could arrive at Rhegium in Italy. See the map; and see Bp. Pearce, from whom I have extracted the two last arguments.
  • That Malta was possessed by the Phoenicians, before the Romans conquered it, Bochart has largely proved; and indeed the language to the present day, notwithstanding all the political vicissitudes through which the island has passed, bears sufficient evidence of its Punic origin. In the year 1761, near a place called Ben Ghisa, in this island, a sepulchral cave was discovered, in which was a square stone with an inscription in Punic or Phoenician characters, on which Sir Wm. Drummond has written a learned essay, (London, Valpy, 1810, 4to.), which he supposes marks the burial place, at least of the ashes, of the famous Carthaginian general, Hannibal. I shall give this inscription in Samaritan characters, as being the present form of the ancient Punic, with Sir Wm. Drummond's translation: -

    Chadar Beth olam kabar Chanibaal

    Nakeh becaleth haveh, rach -

    m daeh Amos beshuth Chanib -

    aal ben Bar -melec .

    "The inner chamber of the sanctuary of the sepulchre of Hannibal,

    Illustrious in the consummation of calamity.

    He was beloved;

    The people lament, when arrayed

    In order of battle,

    Hannibal the son of Bar-Melec."

    As this is a curious piece, and one of the largest remains of the Punic language now in existence, and as it helps to ascertain the ancient inhabitants of this island, I thought it not improper to insert it here. For the illustration of this and several other points of Punic antiquity, I must refer the curious reader to the essay itself.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    They knew - Either from their former acquaintance with the island, or from the information of the inhabitants.

    Was called Melita - Now called “Malta.” It was celebrated formerly for producing large quantities of honey, and is supposed to have been called Melita from the Greek word signifying honey. It is about 20 miles in length from east to west, and 12 miles in width from north to south, and about 60 miles in circumference. It is about 60 miles from the coast of Sicily. The island is an immense rock of white soft freestone, with a covering of earth about one foot in depth, which has been brought from the island of Sicily. There was also another island formerly called “Melita,” now called “Meleda,” in the Adriatic Sea, near the coast of Illyricum, and some have supposed that Paul was shipwrecked on that island. But tradition has uniformly said that it was on the island now called “Malta.” Besides, the other “Melita” would have been far out of the usual track in going to Italy; and it is further evident that Malta was the place, because from the place of his shipwreck he went directly to Syracuse, Rhegium, and Puteoli, thus sailing in a direct course to Rome. In sailing from the other Melita to Rhegium, Syracuse would be far out of the direct course.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    God can make strangers to be friends; friends in distress. Those who are despised for homely manners, are often more friendly than the more polished; and the conduct of heathens, or persons called barbarians, condemns many in civilized nations, professing to be Christians. The people thought that Paul was a murderer, and that the viper was sent by Divine justice, to be the avenger of blood. They knew that there is a God who governs the world, so that things do not come to pass by chance, no, not the smallest event, but all by Divine direction; and that evil pursues sinners; that there are good works which God will reward, and wicked works which he will punish. Also, that murder is a dreadful crime, one which shall not long go unpunished. But they thought all wicked people were punished in this life. Though some are made examples in this world, to prove that there is a God and a Providence, yet many are left unpunished, to prove that there is a judgment to come. They also thought all who were remarkably afflicted in this life were wicked people. Divine revelation sets this matter in a true light. Good men often are greatly afflicted in this life, for the trial and increase of their faith and patience. Observe Paul's deliverance from the danger. And thus in the strength of the grace of Christ, believers shake off the temptations of Satan, with holy resolution. When we despise the censures and reproaches of men, and look upon them with holy contempt, having the testimony of our consciences for us, then, like Paul, we shake off the viper into the fire. It does us no harm, except we are kept by it from our duty. God hereby made Paul remarkable among these people, and so made way for the receiving of the gospel. The Lord raises up friends for his people in every place whither he leads them, and makes them blessings to those in affliction.
    Ellen G. White
    SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (EGW), 1067

    1, 2. A Praise Service on a Stormy Morning—When the roll was called, not one was missing. Nearly three hundred souls—sailors, soldiers, passengers, and prisoners—stood that stormy November morning upon the shore of the island of Melita. And there were some that joined with Paul and his brethren in giving thanks to God, who had preserved their lives and brought them safe to land through the perils of the great deep (Sketches from the Life of Paul, 270). 6BC 1067.1

    *****

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    Ellen G. White
    The Acts of the Apostles, 445-6

    Paul and the other prisoners were now threatened by a fate more terrible than shipwreck. The soldiers saw that while endeavoring to reach land it would be impossible for them to keep their prisoners in charge. Every man would have all he could do to save himself. Yet if any of the prisoners were missing, the lives of those who were responsible for them would be forfeited. Hence the soldiers desired to put all the prisoners to death. The Roman law sanctioned this cruel policy, and the plan would have been executed at once, but for him to whom all alike were under deep obligation. Julius the centurion knew that Paul had been instrumental in saving the lives of all on board, and, moreover, convinced that the Lord was with him, he feared to do him harm. He therefore “commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: and the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” When the roll was called, not one was missing. AA 445.1

    The shipwrecked crew were kindly received by the barbarous people of Melita. “They kindled a fire,” Luke writes, “and received us everyone, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” Paul was among those who were active in ministering to the comfort of others. Having gathered “a bundle of sticks,” he “laid them on the fire,” when a viper came forth “out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.” The bystanders were horror-stricken; and seeing by his chain that Paul was a prisoner, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.” But Paul shook off the creature into the fire and felt no harm. Knowing its venomous nature, the people looked for him to fall down at any moment in terrible agony. “But after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” AA 445.2

    During the three months that the ship's company remained at Melita, Paul and his fellow laborers improved many opportunities to preach the gospel. In a remarkable manner the Lord wrought through them. For Paul's sake the entire shipwrecked company were treated with great kindness; all their wants were supplied, and upon leaving Melita they were liberally provided with everything needful for their voyage. The chief incidents of their stay are thus briefly related by Luke: AA 446.1

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    Ellen G. White
    My Life Today, 334

    I Too May Conquer

    Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. 1 Corinthians 13:4 ML 334.1

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    Ellen G. White
    The Acts of the Apostles, 445-54

    Paul and the other prisoners were now threatened by a fate more terrible than shipwreck. The soldiers saw that while endeavoring to reach land it would be impossible for them to keep their prisoners in charge. Every man would have all he could do to save himself. Yet if any of the prisoners were missing, the lives of those who were responsible for them would be forfeited. Hence the soldiers desired to put all the prisoners to death. The Roman law sanctioned this cruel policy, and the plan would have been executed at once, but for him to whom all alike were under deep obligation. Julius the centurion knew that Paul had been instrumental in saving the lives of all on board, and, moreover, convinced that the Lord was with him, he feared to do him harm. He therefore “commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: and the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” When the roll was called, not one was missing. AA 445.1

    The shipwrecked crew were kindly received by the barbarous people of Melita. “They kindled a fire,” Luke writes, “and received us everyone, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” Paul was among those who were active in ministering to the comfort of others. Having gathered “a bundle of sticks,” he “laid them on the fire,” when a viper came forth “out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.” The bystanders were horror-stricken; and seeing by his chain that Paul was a prisoner, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.” But Paul shook off the creature into the fire and felt no harm. Knowing its venomous nature, the people looked for him to fall down at any moment in terrible agony. “But after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” AA 445.2

    During the three months that the ship's company remained at Melita, Paul and his fellow laborers improved many opportunities to preach the gospel. In a remarkable manner the Lord wrought through them. For Paul's sake the entire shipwrecked company were treated with great kindness; all their wants were supplied, and upon leaving Melita they were liberally provided with everything needful for their voyage. The chief incidents of their stay are thus briefly related by Luke: AA 446.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Early Writings, 207

    Again the Lord appeared to Paul and revealed to him that he must go up to Jerusalem, that he would there be bound and suffer for His name. Although he was a prisoner for a great length of time, yet the Lord carried forward His special work through him. His bonds were to be the means of spreading the knowledge of Christ and thus glorifying God. As he was sent from city to city for his trial, his testimony concerning Jesus and the interesting incidents of his own conversion were related before kings and governors, that they should be left without excuse concerning Jesus. Thousands believed on Him and rejoiced in His name. I saw that God's special purpose was fulfilled in the journey of Paul upon the sea; He designed that the ship's crew might thus witness the power of God through Paul and that the heathen also might hear the name of Jesus, and that many might be converted through the teaching of Paul and by witnessing the miracles he wrought. Kings and governors were charmed by his reasoning, and as with zeal and the power of the Holy Spirit he preached Jesus and related the interesting events of his experience, conviction fastened upon them that Jesus was the Son of God. While some wondered with amazement as they listened to Paul, one cried out, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Yet the most of those who heard thought that at some future time they would consider what they had heard. Satan took advantage of the delay, and, as they neglected the opportunity when their hearts were softened, it was forever lost. Their hearts became hardened. EW 207.1

    I was shown the work of Satan in first blinding the eyes of the Jews so that they would not receive Jesus as their Saviour; and next in leading them, through envy because of His mighty works, to desire His life. Satan entered one of Christ's own followers and led him on to betray Him into the hands of His enemies, that they might crucify the Lord of life and glory. EW 208.1

    After Jesus arose from the dead, the Jews added sin to sin as they sought to hide the fact of His resurrection by hiring the Roman guard to testify to a falsehood. But the resurrection of Jesus was made doubly sure by the resurrection of a multitude of witnesses at the same time. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, and to above five hundred at once, while those whom He brought up with Him appeared unto many, declaring that Jesus had risen. EW 208.2

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    Cross References
    Paul's Journeys
    Paul's Voyage to Rome