Whether or not Anna is called a prophetess because she received special revelations from God or just that she was steeped in the Scriptures, she was living the very life of Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (KJV).
Neither her tribal heritage, the tragic early loss of her husband, the poverty of widowhood, nor her advanced age hindered her from pursuing the desire of her heart to be where the Scriptures were read and God was worshipped. Likely she was the descendant of the faithful few from the tribe of Asher who responded to Hezekiah’s invitation to come to Jerusalem seven hundred years before. Anna (meaning “grace”), the daughter of Phanuel (meaning “I have seen God face to face and am still alive”), was there to see Mary and Joseph offer two turtle doves at the dedication of the firstborn according to the law of Moses.
Most likely she was also there to hear Simeon’s declaration, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luk 2:29-30 ESV). At that very instant she came forward to join in the worship of the promised Messiah even though Jesus was only a baby.
Fasting and Praying
Did Anna have a corner of the Court of the Women in which she unrolled her mat and slept at night? More likely the meaning of “not departing from the temple” (Luk 2:37) meant that she was present every time the doors were open for any event. She was there for the morning as well as the evening sacrifices. She was there for the Sabbath reading of the Scriptures. She was there for each of the solemn Feasts of Jehovah, including the Day of Atonement. We don’t know how she might have been involved in serving, but perhaps she and other widows helped tend and teach the young mothers and children that visited the temple. What we do know is that she prayed. There was much to pray about and many to pray for in her day, just as there is in our assemblies today. We know she fasted, not as a mere ritual like the Pharisees but with a heart burdened to see God work in the lives of those around her and for the promises of God to be fulfilled in the coming kingdom.
There were many in Israel who were waiting for the Messiah, but most of them were waiting for someone to deliver them from Roman bondage and perhaps start a religious revival in the temple. They recognized that things were bad both politically and religiously among their people, but Anna, Simeon and a few others had a deeper insight into the reason for the Messiah’s coming: the redemption of Jerusalem. Had she and Simeon discussed the many Scriptures that tell of His birth in Bethlehem? Had Simeon told her of the promise that he had received from God that he would see the Lord’s Christ before he died? Where had she learned that the Messiah would not come to conquer Rome but to pay the price for the sins of Israel and of all mankind? No doubt it was from the Scriptures she heard at the Sabbath readings – passages like Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (ESV).
Anna had often heard the Word of the Lord read in the temple and likely even the scroll of Malachi where it says, “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Mal 3:16 KJV). After that day in the temple, she was convinced she had seen the Lord’s Christ and couldn’t keep quiet. She had seen the Redeemer, and others needed to know about Him (Luk 2:38b).
We don’t need to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to be a worshiper and witness for the Redeemer, although we should be thankful for everyone who has those abilities. It is doubtful Anna lived long enough to see Simeon’s prophecy come to pass about the sword piercing Mary’s heart (v35) or to see the spear pierce her Messiah’s side, but we can be sure she trusted that He was pierced for her transgressions and was crushed for her iniquities. The Scriptures don’t give us any details of her prayers, her worship or what she told others who were waiting for the Messiah, but can you not hear Anna telling of that unforgettable day when she first met Him? Can you not imagine her telling God in quiet worship how much it meant to her that she was still alive when the Messiah came, allowing her to see God face to face?
Ina Duley Ogdon captured what Anna and every spiritual believer senses in their heart:
If I could only tell him as I know him,
My Redeemer who has brightened all my way;
If I could tell how precious is his presence,
I am sure that you would make him yours today.