Andrew Borland of Scotland, Editor of The Believer’s Magazine, is well-known to our reader family. This is the last of three articles dealing with three noble women of the New Testament. ‘The articles have been selected from “Wholesome Words,” a bi- monthly paper received from New Zealand.
(From Luke 2)
Anna is referred to as a widow of great age, perhaps one of the oldest persons in Jerusalem at that time. Her life can be divided into three sections. Reference is made to her virginity, but no indication is given as to its duration. Then she had lived with her husband for seven years after she had been married. The longest period of her life was her widowhood. The account says, “She was a widow of about fourscore and four years” (2:37). If “fourscore and four years” was the length of her widowhood she could have been well over a hundred. Notice these features about such a remarkable woman.
1. Her interest in spiritual things had not declined in spite of her experiences and the passage of years. The loss of her husband after only a few years of married life had not destroyed her noble concern. Perhaps her grief intensified her desires. Advancing years, even to extreme old age, had not diminished her zeal.
2. She was “the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher” (2:36). Her family connections were well known. Asher was one of “the ten lost tribes” taken off to captivity and scattered; but evidently some of them who had returned to Jerusalem were the forebears of Anna’s father, Phanuel. When the girl was born the parents chose to name her after one of the noblest women in Hebrew history, Hannah, and, doubtless, the maiden was oftentimes reminded that her name meant “grace”, and that she had a worthy character to emulate. Names in those days were not simply social or family tags, they had significance for those who bore them.
3. Anna is described as a “prophetess”. She was the last of that line in pre-Christian times. Two other women are so designated, Deborah, in Judges 4:4, and Huldah, in 2 Kings 22:14. That was an honour indeed! She was one to whom were given messages from God, in all probability because there were no men to whom messages could be entrusted. Luke must have discovered the fact from those who knew that such an honoured woman existed.
4. Certain statements are made which reveal her character. An intimate picture is built up for us in a few words.
(a) She departed not from the temple. Her entire life was devoted to God. It may be she occupied some building in the Temple precincts, and while she was no longer known on the streets of the city she was well known by the pious folk who attended the services regularly. What she saw in the Temple court must have grieved her, as she witnessed the sacred surroundings converted into a den of thieves making merchandise their business in the name of religion. Do the assemblies of God’s people not need women like that today?
(b) She “served God”. Her life was devoted to worshipping. There were priestly functions which, as a woman, she could not perform; but divinely imposed prohibitions could not interfere with a devout spirit expressing itself in adoration and praise. About her demeanor there would be an atmosphere of sanctity, of devotion, which did not need to manifest itself in words.
(c) She “fasted”. She practised self-denial. She did not allow her indulgence to destroy the regularity of her religious exercises. Perhaps that had been a life-long practice, so that in old age it was a habitual attitude of life. Her mode of living was free from the excesses which mark an undisciplined life.
(d) She “prayed night and day”. Fasting and praying continued together. Such exercises were not spasmodic. They were part of a regular routine from which she did not depart, and by so doing she overcame natural tendencies which might interfere with her service for God. What an asset such a woman was to those who frequented the Temple at the stated times of prayer!
(e) On one occasion she attended the Temple at the time when aged Simeon was holding the Infant Messiah in his arms, and when she heard him speak she “gave thanks unto the Lord” (2:38). Her words are not recorded, but it may be certain that her whole being was thrilled as she realized that the long-promised Messiah had at length arrived. How do we react at the remembrance that He has been here as the Saviour of the world, and is now alive forevermore?
(f) She “spoke of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (2:38). She was well known to the godly remnant in the city whom she knew as those who longed for the coming of the Redeemer. She immediately shared with them the good news that their expectations had been realized. She was not ashamed to identify herself with the Lord, and with those who loved His first appearing. What noble service even aged women can do! What an occupation for an aged woman to “speak of Him”!
Here is a lesson for us all to learn. “A resigned and religious old age will often move us more than the heroic ardour of young hearts.”