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. 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. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. (Acts 28:3-5 KJV)
When all the men in the Paul’s ship had arrived safely on the shore, they found out that the Island they all landed on was called Melita. It was quite a small island (on the Mediterranean coasts), which still exists today (and is now popularly known as St. Paul’s Island) in the larger country of Malta Islands. The people of the land were hospitable, and they treated the shipwreck survivors kindly. Because it was rainy season, and the men had just emerged from the cold sea, the people built a fire to provide warmth for them. In order to provide more wood for the burning fire, Paul, as well as others, went out to gather more firewood for the fire.
As Paul was gathering firewood, little did he know that stuck in the mass of firewood which he carried was a venomous beast- a viper! The viper got out of the wood (being driven by the fire), and fastened itself on Paul’s hands. As the natives of the island saw the beast hanging from Paul’s hands, they concluded that Paul was a dangerous man (a murderer) who though having escaped the shipwreck, fate did not allow him to stay alive. They were so sure that Paul would die, and were only expecting for it to happen. But what did Paul do?
The Bible said that he “shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.” He did not buckle under the weight of the beast. He did not lose heart under the weight of the beast. He simply shook it into the fire, and went his way. Of course, after expecting him to die without success, they concluded that he was not a mere man, rather he was a deity (and truly, Paul (like every other Christian) was not a mere man. So, that incidence ended the life of the beast, but not Paul. His life continued because every child of God is immortal, until his/her work on earth is done.
AND SO? I have two things to draw out from this incidence. Firstly, why Paul? Of all the people who were gathering firewood, why was it Paul that such negative thing could happen to? Now wonder what could have happened if it was not Paul? Who else could have had the courage, faith and strength of spirit to handle the beast without being hurt? We bless the Lord that it was Paul, not any other person that had that beast fastened to his hand; for in Paul lay all the grace to overcome such difficulties. Please recall that the Bible said, “We all experience times of testing, which is normal for every human being. But God will be faithful to you. He will screen and filter the severity, nature, and timing of every test or trial you face so that you can bear it. And each test is an opportunity to trust him more, for along with every trial God has provided for you a way of escape that will bring you out of it victoriously.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 TPT)
Every challenges and tests which a faithful child of God faces in life is a vote of confidence by God on him/her. It means that God had weighed that test, and affirmed that you can overcome it all. So, of all the people on that island, God knew that Paul could stand up to the beast, which was why he allowed the beast to come to him. In this also, he provided an avenue for Paul to preach the Gospel of Jesus on that Island.
Secondly, notice how Paul handled the beast- he shook it off! Many times, we see people handle proverbial beasts differently. Sometimes, as a believer, I’ve had beasts of depressive thoughts come to my heart. Do you know what I did? I sat down with the beast, I reasoned with it, and I allowed its venom to spread all over my body, and my spiritual life. Of course, I became incapacitated, unable to pray or read my Bible. These days, however, I have become wiser. When the beasts come, I shake it off! I stand up, and I begin to proclaim God’s love for me. I begin to sing songs, and to make declarations. I am no more sitting down with any beasts. I am no more giving any beast a chance in my life or my thoughts. Like Paul of old, I am learning (I have not perfected yet) to shake off the beast.
How do you shake it off? By prayers, by singing, by speaking, by reading your Bible aloud. You do not shake off a beast by sitting silently. You must be violent. Rise up and do one thing, one very important thing… open your mouth, and SPEAK! Yes, SAY SOMETHING!
The beasts cannot stay in an environment where God’s word is powerfully spoken. Be it beasts of lustful thoughts, beasts of anger, beasts of depression and all other beasts. God is with you. He believes that you can overcome that beast. So, instead of sitting under the fear, terror and despair of the beast, rise up now and shake it into the fire!
P/S: Just like the unconverted people of Malta, many believers today still believe in fate, chance, luck and even ‘karma’. Such terms are not to be heard from a believer’s mouth. We believe in God, His justice, His mercy, His will and His sovereignty. Amen.