Anna the Prophetess
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Luke 2:36a (Holman) There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter
of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to be dedicated in the Temple, Simeon, who recognized the child was the Messiah, greeted them. “Also” in the Temple was a prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel. Her name meant gracious. Being of the tribe of Asher means she may have been from Galilee.
As a prophetess, she was able to discern God’s will, and communicate it to people. When Anna spoke, people listened. They knew she understood YHWH’s ways, and could articulate how to apply them to people’s lives.
Other women in the Bible served as God’s spokespersons. Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron (EX 15:20), led Israel in worshiping God after He parted the Red Sea. Deborah (JG 4:4), who led a successful attack against the forces of King Jabin of Canaan, boldly proclaimed God’s commands.
When King Josiah found the book of the Lord, and was weeping over the nation’s sins, he sent messengers to consult Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22), who verified Israel’s disastrous condition. Philip the Evangelist, one of the original seven deacons, had four daughters who were prophetesses (AC 21:8-9). My family has an interesting woman-preacher story. My father-in-law was saved under the preaching of a lady in a General Baptist Church.
Luke 2:36b-37a She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years.
Our text can be interpreted two ways. She was either an 84-year-old widow or had been a widow 84 years. In the latter case, if she married at the usual age for marriage, age 12 or so, and was widowed at about age 19, she would have been 103 years old.
Either way, age 84 or 103, she had experienced a lot. She saw Pompey conquer Israel, and add it to the Roman Empire (63 B.C.). Adding insult to injury, Anna was forced to watch Herod’s godless, ruthless family rise to power. She had seen Israel sink into a dark time. For decades she had daily come to God’s temple, praying her people would better serve YHWH.
As a young bride, she enjoyed the security of marriage for seven years. When the shadow of death hid the light in her life, and filled her with mourning, she had to make a tough choice. What would her outlook on life be for the rest of her days? Would she stay always sad? A deep sorrow, especially one experienced early in life, can make us better or bitter, tender or harsh, yielded or resentful, for a long time. Anna fortunately made the right choice. She let her troubles soften her, and make her holier than ever.
I have been recently blessed by reading Pastor Tim Keller’s book, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” One of the book’s many helpful lessons is; there has to be value in suffering because God suffered.
Since God does not waste time, there had to be worthwhile reasons why He suffered. He suffered not to keep us from suffering, but so we could suffer as He did, knowing it has meaning. He knew something helpful would come from it. Otherwise, He would not have taken time to endure the ordeal.
The same is true of our suffering. It matters. Do not count it a waste. We may never know in this life why we’re suffering, but we trust our Father. We believe He has something worthwhile for us in our every fiery trial.
Luke 2:37b She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night
and day with fasting and prayers.
Anna was, as we say it, in church every time the doors were open. This proves she made the right life choice with regard to her suffering. Anna chose to spend more, not less, time in God’s house with God’s people. She obviously loved both.
Don’t let anger and disappointment drive us away from God and His people. Within the fellowship of believers we find our best hope for genuine comfort and undergirding. Here is where we are meant to be enfolded.
God’s people not only enfold us; they encourage us and help us reach ever-greater spiritual successes. People who rarely or reluctantly come to church do not usually have a huge Christian impact in this world.
Paul the Apostle recommended Anna’s example. He said Christian widows should pray night and day (1 Timothy 5:5). Let me humbly request, dear widows; please include Ruth and me in your daily and nightly prayers. We often feel spiritual warfare being waged around us. Please pray for us.
I love the fact Anna’s corporate speaking in worship was matched by personal prayer in worship. “They pray best together who first pray alone.”
Pray always. Live every moment, as much as possible, consciously thinking about God. Other disciplines may come and go, but always pray.
As we age, surely we see more and more the need for more and more prayer. The passing years teach us many things, one of the most important being the futile hopelessness of trying to serve God in our strength. Anna had evidently learned this lesson well. She prayed constantly.
I appreciate the fact that the prophetic words Anna spoke as God’s mouthpiece through the decades to people were confirmed and reinforced by her lifelong holy life. Holiness matters most—even to our last breath. She was faithful to the end.
The capstone matters. When Ruth and I arrived at New Orleans Baptist Seminary in August 1972, its beautiful chapel was stunted, having a steeple platform, but no steeple. While we were there, the steeple was added; the transformation to the building was remarkable. It looked fulfilled, like what it was supposed to look like.Christ-followers, for our lives to be truly beautiful, we must stay faithful to the end. Lifelong endurance adds the crowning glory to our lives.
Never retire from pursuing God, avoiding sin, going to church, reading the Bible, and praying much. Should we enjoy retirement and old age? Absolutely. Party! A part of this enjoyment should include what we feel to be a thrill: being able to spend more time in ministry and on mission.
As you often hear me say; the purpose of retirement is to be able to go on mission trips at Government expense. Surely we do not view ministry and mission as a burden. We should gladly serve God to our dying breath.
These are thoughts that occupy me often. What are the things I feel God wants me to do for the entirety of the rest of my days? I feel a need to spend all my life preaching and/or attending church every Sunday, reading the whole Bible annually, praying through my prayer folder daily, doing ministry and mission, and leaving a circumspect example for my family.