Of all the people who surrounded the Lord Jesus in the earliest days of His life, probably the least prominent is Anna. All we know of her is found in one of Luke’s characteristic pen-portraits in three verses in Luke chapter 2. Two major things are said of her: she was a prophetess and she was a widow. It is interesting that when her family and social circumstances are described, they are linked with her status as a prophetess, while the description of her spiritual activity is connected with her widowhood. Perhaps the obvious lesson from this is that God does not differentiate between our social circumstances and our spiritual service. As believers, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that it is acceptable to be a different sort of person in the assembly from the sort of person I am when at work – every aspect of my life ought to be characterized by godliness.
In many ways the description of Anna that is given under this heading is unremarkable. Of her father, Phanuel, nothing more is known. She came from the tribe of Asher, but again, there is little said of the members of this tribe in scripture.1 Her husband, who had obviously been dead for a number of years, is not even named. All in all, there was very little, seemingly, about this aged woman that would cause her to make her mark in history. And yet, the Spirit of God records that she was ‘a prophetess’, someone through whom the mind of God could be made known to His people. From this we learn that God is not dependent on a man or woman’s social prominence in order to be able to use them in His service. He can, of course, use kings and prophets and mighty men if He so chooses, but He is equally able to reveal His mind through the humblest of believers. Let this be an encouragement to each of us – no matter how lowly our position in the eyes of the world, God is able to work through us if we are prepared to be usable in His hands.
How lonely those eighty-four years had been we can only guess. The scripture makes no mention of children, so it may be that she had none. Perhaps the hopes and dreams of her early married years had come to nothing – all that stretched before her were empty days, when it would have been so easy to become resentful at the solitary path God had called her to tread. And yet, her devotion to God is seen in the fact that she ‘departed not from the temple’, Luke 2. 37, and spent her days in fasting and prayer. If God had removed all else from her, it must only be so that He Himself would become everything to her, and so she would devote her service to Him. Let us learn from this; in this modern world there is great danger, with its emphasis on comfort and self-interest, that we begin to regard our Christianity from a purely selfish point of view. It can become a hobby that we engage in when it suits us, rather than the defining focus of our lives and an overriding duty that we owe to our Creator. When I stand at the Judgement Seat of Christ, it will not matter how much time I gave to my career and the time that I spent ‘taking it easy’ will be seen to have been wasted so far as eternity is concerned.2 Let us see to it that, as much as lies within us, we follow Anna’s example, who ‘served God … night and day’, v. 37.
But then there came the day that must have been the highlight of her whole life. Moving through the temple, as she had no doubt done many times before, she came across a little group of four people: two men, a woman, and a child of a few weeks old. The long-promised Messiah had come at last, and she was there to witness it! In such a scene of joy, it was only natural that her heart would rise in praise to God, and that she would want to tell others of what she had seen. There is something greatly encouraging about this; even at the advanced age of eighty-four, there was still something that she could do that God valued enough to cause it to be recorded in holy scripture.3 First, she gave thanks to the Lord, v. 38. Notice the order of things here; before she speaks to man, she will give to God. It is an abiding principle of scripture that God must have His portion first and then man can be blessed. It was the order of angelic praise in verse 14, and it ought to be the attitude of our hearts also. But, second, she speaks of Him ‘to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem’, v. 38. Let this be a challenge to all our beloved elderly brethren and sisters: is there still the desire to evangelize that there was in earlier days? While it is true that society is changing, the need of mankind is still the same; while it may also be true that my sphere of service may shrink as age advances, surely there will always be opportunities to speak to others about Him. May God help us to do so, so that if the Lord spares us we, like Anna, may ‘bring forth fruit in old age’, Ps. 92. 14.
However, it is interesting that the first mention of Asher, the father of the tribe, is linked with praising women.
This is not meant to imply that periods of rest and relaxation are wrong, but, if the attitude of my heart is that any difficult or exhausting thing is to be avoided, I cannot expect to receive much praise of God in that day!
Some take the view that her widowhood alone had lasted eighty-four years, and that her actual age was around 100. The point remains the same!