Maybe the fire wasn't hot enough to warm all these people. Paul gathers a bundle of sticks to put on the fire. When he does, “there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.”
The Maltese instantly conclude that this is a sign that Paul is a murderer, and doomed – he didn't drown, but now he's going to die of snakebite. Watch this!
Paul “shook off the beast into the fire”. When “he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly”, but doesn't, the Maltese “changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”
A god. Hmm. Publius's dad is sick, think you can do anything? Paul lays hands on Publius's father, who gets better, and “others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed”.
According to Ethan Matt Kavaler's Pieter Bruegel: Parables of Order and Enterprise, the two people standing on the left are probably Gillis Hooftman and Margaretha van Nispen, rich residents of Antwerp who commissioned the painting for their dining room. Second from the right is probably Abraham Ortelius, a mapmaker who published a famous world atlas, and who “was a regular at the Frankfurt Book Fair.” As for painter Marten de Vos, he charged less than Frans Floris. He was “suspected of Lutheran sympathies.”
But what about the snake, in the middle of the picture? Here's a difficulty: there are no vipers on Malta. Also, according to Theodore Stephanides, in Island Trails, vipers don't act like that. They would rather flee than bite. Or, if they must, bite and then flee. They don't fasten on like scaly terriers.
But Stephanides points out that a snake he calls the Dark Green or Angry Snake, now more often called the Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus), does act like that, and is found on Malta. He says it “has a well-deserved reputation for viciousness although it possesses no poison fangs. It is among the few ophidians which will attack with little or no provocation and it will even hang on to its victim like a bulldog.” I say even a sweet-tempered snake may view being used as firewood to be provocation.
The Snakes of Croatia webpage agrees about the snake's personality. “Extremely [aggressive] if caught, it tends to bite hard and persistently.” (So would I.)
But not poisonous. No wonder Paul didn't drop dead. This means that if you had been there, and that snake had bitten you, you would not have swelled and died, and they would have taken you for a god. (Unless you had been a big whiny baby about it, because that always seems so non-divine.)
Celebrated as a god! Nice. Of course, then you would have to heal the sick. There's always something.