Much of the study of history, whether biblical or not, focuses on “great men and great deeds.” There are, however, unnumbered multitudes of common ordinary people of every age, gender, race, size, type, temperament, and ability, without whom our own stories could not have been written and continued.
One such person was Anna, whose name is mentioned only once in Scripture. With that allusion she became noteworthy, her life offering lessons from which we can all benefit.
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38
Anna, whose name means “gracious,” was in the temple in Jerusalem “in that instant,” when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to present Him to the Lord.
Prophetess: the spirit of prophecy began to revive. It had ceased in Israel for more than 300 years. Or this might mean she was one who had understanding in the scriptures above other women, which meant she had devoted her life to studying the word of God, and made learning more of Him and His ways a priority, so that she might teach others.
Phanuel: Some scholars believe this name was mentioned to make the reader think of Jacob’s “Phanuel or Penuel” in Genesis 32:24-30
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place “Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
Anna, because of the life decisions she had made, was privileged to see God face to face when she looked on the face of Jesus.
Tribe of Asher: which was in Galilee. No sooner did prophecy revive than it appeared in Galilee, thus refuting those who said, “Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.”
Of a great age: Some think she had been a widow for 84 years and thus over 100. Some think she was 84 years old and a widow. Either way, she was married only a short time and after the death of her husband, devoted herself to the things of God only. We can only surmise. Perhaps she loved her husband so deeply she could not imagine going on without him, that no man could have ever held the place in her heart that he did, and in some way she still considered herself forever bound to him in her heart, aching with a great void only God could soothe and fill.
Departed not from the temple: Some think she had lodgings in the courts of the temple, either in an alms house or as a prophetess, she was lodged there. Others think she was constantly there in the temple ready to offer help to any who needed it.
Served God with fastings and prayers: Whether she lived in the temple or not, she served God constantly by her life of prayer. She was not “weary in well doing.”
Coming in that instant: She was there when the promise came. She gave thanks to the Lord. She did not lament the fact that her husband was gone. She gave thanks to God.
Spake of him: Redemption was wanted, waited for, and wished for. Many in Jerusalem were looking. Anna was waiting and was in the right place when the promise was fulfilled.
[Examples: Abraham’s servant, “I being in the way the Lord led me” (Genesis 24: 27) and Isaac, (Genesis 24:63): And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and behold, the camels were coming.”]
May we like gracious Anna turn to God in our need and be found waiting in the right place for His promise.