Following Jesus’ birth Mary and Joseph travel, the short distance from Bethlehem, to attend the Temple in Jerusalem. A new mother was required to go to the Temple, forty days after the birth of a son, to offer a sacrifice for her purification . The firstborn of any children were also, as prescribed by the law of Moses, presented at the Temple and dedicated to serve the Lord. Jesus’ parents are following these requirements and it is there in the Temple courts that Anna, Daughter of Phanuel, is drawn into the event.
Who was Anna, Daughter of Phanuel, in the Bible?
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2:36-38
There is no discrimination because of nationality, age, status, or gender, in God’s kingdom. We are all equally valued and precious in His sight. The counter-culture of God’s kingdom is demonstrated in this story of Anna, Daughter of Phanuel. Often it is in the glimpses of people’s lives that God’s attention to detail is revealed. As God deals with nations and implements His world-wide purposes, we also see His care for the individual and His faithfulness towards those who love Him.
The Story of Anna
Anna, Daughter of Phanuel or Penuel is only mentioned in this brief account in Luke’s gospel. Sometime shortly after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, a distance of only about five miles. It is time for Mary to follow the purification rites as prescribed in Leviticus 12 by bringing an offering to the Lord, at the Temple. They also present the baby Jesus to the priest to be consecrated to the Lord. This was a requirement for every firstborn son as a memorial of God’s deliverance. It refers to when God redeemed the nation of Israel from Egypt, when they were spared from the tenth plague.
Into this traditional scene at the temple courts, of a family presenting their newborn baby to the Lord, two respected elderly people join the group. First, we meet Simeon, a man who was known to be godly and devout, and who had received a word from the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died.
Due to the occupation of Israel by the Roman army, there was an atmosphere of expectancy for the rescue and deliverance of God’s people. Surely, this would be the time for the Messiah to be revealed?
Simeon guided by the Holy Spirit recognises that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He takes the baby into his arms and speaks prophetically:
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.Luke 2:29-32
Mary and Joseph were amazed at these words. Simeon continued to speak of the impact of Jesus’ life and ministry, for the nation and for Mary herself. Into this little group, came Anna, the daughter of Phanuel praising God for the child Jesus. Just as Simeon, led by the Holy Spirit, recognised who Jesus was, so did Anna.
Anna’s response on meeting with Jesus, was to praise God and to tell others. She immediately began sharing the good news.
Anna the Prophetess
Included in this brief description of Anna is the recognition of her ministry as a prophetess. A reminder that God’s gifts are given without partiality, as He determines, to those who seek Him. That God does not look at the outward appearance, he does not consider our age, gender, social status, or even nationality. His ways are different to the ways of men, God looks at our heart and our response to Him.
Anna is described as being someone who ‘never left the temple’ that she was there praying, and worshiping, at all hours of day and night. The Temple was large and had many side rooms for various uses – and it is possible that Anna, being a widow, was allowed to live in one of them. Or it could be that this phrase is not intended as a literal one. We use a similar phrase today when describing someone who spends a lot of time at their favourite place, we might say that they are always there and even that ‘they live there.’
Anna demonstrates her love for God, by her commitment to Him. She was only married for a short period of her life and became a widow while still young. She had never re-married and there is no mention of children or close family. Anna’s life is an example of someone who has chosen not to live in regret, or even bitterness, but to devote her life to God.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.Psalm 84:10-12
Anna is blessed indeed, she has found her place and her purpose, as she waits on the Lord.
Related Post: Still Waiting, Psalm 13
What is the Biblical meaning of ‘Anna’
The name ‘Anna’ is derived from the Hebrew name ‘Hannah’(or Chanah) meaning grace or favour. The name Anna means gracious, one who gives. In the Bible names were important, to represent the character of the person, to declare, prophetically, who they were, and who they were going to be. It seems as if Anna was well named, in giving her life in devoted service to the Lord, and immediately sharing what she receives with others.
Anna, Daughter of Phanuel
To the Israelites family heritage was important as it was their identity. Anna’s identity is confirmed with her family heritage as the daughter of Phanuel or Penuel. Her father is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. But the name Penuel is identified with the place where Jacob wrestled with God, also called Peniel. It was here that God changed his name from Jacob to Israel – because he struggled with God, and humans, and had overcome.
Anna, I am sure, had also experienced her own struggles. The loss of her husband while young, the apparent lack of family, at a time when being a woman alone was a precarious position. She had overcome her loss and was now honoured. Anna received recognition and honour from her own people, as they regarded her as a ‘voice of God’. A prophetess, a mouthpiece, to bring God’s word to His people.
Anna was also honoured by God, to be invited into the celebration of the birth of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Anna, of The Tribe of Asher
In the division of the land the tribe of Asher were allocated an area in the North West of the country, on the Mediterranean coast. Due to the lower temperatures and higher rainfall at the coast this was some of the most fertile land in Canaan – a prosperous area known for its olive oil.
Before his death Moses blessed each of the tribes of Israel, speaking prophetically these were hIs words from God to the tribe of Asher:
Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favoured by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.Deuteronomy 33:24-25
A blessing signifying, prosperity, protection, and strength for their whole life, right until the end of their days.
Anna was blessed with the Holy Oil, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. She was living in the joy of the Lord, in the House of the Lord, with strength, even in her old age. A true daughter of Asher.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.Isaiah 46:4
God is faithful – praise His Holy Name.
To Bethlehem & Beyond! 31 Daily Readings by Sharon Hazel.
As we approach the Christmas Season do you find it difficult, among all the busyness, to focus on the reason we are celebrating? I have a new daily reading devotional for December which may help. It is available, on Amazon, Kindle and Paperback, UK, US.
‘To Bethlehem & Beyond’ travels through Scripture reflecting on God’s plan, the people, and the promises fulfilled. Each day has a Scripture reading, a short reflection, a take-away thought/question, a psalm verse and a prayer.