36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
37 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.
38 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.
1901 ASV Translation:
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity,
37 and she had been a widow even unto fourscore and four years), who departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day.
38 And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks unto God, and spake of him to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I. Luke's Focus Upon Anna.
A. He does not quote anything she said in spite of identifying her as a prophetess.
B. He describes her in some detail...
1. She was a prophetess.
a. Her name meant "Grace". It has the same root as the name "John" from chapter one (the name "John" having the addition of the opening letters of Yahweh as a prefix).
b. As a prophetess, she had a reputation for being an able source of the words of God.
2. She was of Phanuel of Asher.
a. Her father's name is a variation of Penial and means "face of God". It immediately pulls up the story of Jacob's "wrestling" with God and naming the place Peniel.
b. Her tribe was of Asher, born of Zilphah, handmaid to Leah (Genesis 30:13). His name referred to Leah's "enviable state" (see Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament on Asher). It is highly likely that this name was given because of Leah's on-going conflict with Rachel and her understanding of what her success in having "sons" for Jacob was doing to Rachel. It's not a pretty picture. The tribe of Asher was not notable in accomplishing anything good for the nation and was criticized for not being willing to help the other tribes fight against the Canaanites. The "blessing" upon Asher by Jacob in Genesis 49:20 was that he would produce "desirable foods, fit for kings". In Moses' "blessing" in Deuteronomy 33:24-25, Asher was to be "blessed with children" and the request was made that he be "acceptable to his brethren".
3. She was very old [perfect active participle].
a. Zacharias used this same descriptive word of his wife Elizabeth in his disbelief of Gabriel's promise of a son in 1:18.
b. Luke used this same descriptive word of both Zacharias and Elizabeth in 1:7 in his description of their barren state.
c. The word has a fundamental concept of having gone on down the way and it is applied to the issue of living many years (having gone a long way down the path of physical life).
d. Her age is the point, but what is that point? That Luke is "word-tying" her to the earlier text (1:7-18) seems obvious. By that we note that both texts focus upon the identity issues (names and tribal connections) and both texts are dealing with individuals who are significantly "plugged into" the Temple and its worship. But, whereas the Zacharias text (which has the father in the "legal" generation and the son as the introduction to the "grace" generation) uses age to indicate a long-developed cynicism and a sense that "Yahweh's words have failed in respect to me because of my failures" mindset, the Anna text (which is a "grace" generation by name even though the function is "legal") is quite contrary to that. One thing that does stand out about both texts is the fact that the plan of Yahweh develops in such a way that any given individual is confronted with how the promise addresses him/her as the time drags on without fulfillment. Anna addresses those who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem as one whose whole life has gone by without seeing that event come to pass. This seems to be Luke's "point" -- that the days of fulfillment of at least a part of the Plan have come and both Simeon and Anna are witnesses to this fact.
4. She had been married for seven years and then widowed.
a. Luke's words are deliberate: she had lived with a husband for 7 years from her virginity. The language is odd in that Luke is pointing out that Anna "lost" her virginity to her husband and then lived with him for 7 years. In fact, the actual terminology could easily be translated "from the point in time when she departed from virginity, she lived with a husband for 7 years".
b. Since there is no mention of children from that marriage, we have to assume that Luke's focus upon "virginity" is his way of making his point. But, again, we have to ask, "What is his point?". The "virginity" terminology pushes us back to 1:27 and the story of how Gabriel announced the virginal conception of Jesus to Mary. The combination of Luke's identification of Anna with Zacharias/Elizabeth and this identification of Anna with Mary seems to indicate that Luke is pushing the point that Yahweh'sPlaninvolvesboththedisappointingandthemiraculous.
5. She was either 84, or she had been widowed for 84 years.
a. To say that she was 84 years old on the heels of the earlier declaration that she had gone down the path of life for many days is unlikely.
b. The words say she was a "widow" of 84 years...which would make her very old indeed if she had lived 84 years of widowhood.
c. Again, the point: an extremely long life of some difficulty.
6. She never left the Temple and worshiped there with fastings and prayers night/day.
a. This is a contrast with her heritage as a daughter of Asher. The picture of Asher is one of "fat and sass" -- hedonistic excess with the definition of "blessing" being an excess of physical pleasure.
b. Anna never left the Temple -- indicating that the priesthood and Temple authorities had some provision for people like her who were completely dedicated to "worship". There is indication in Paul's instructions in the Pastorals that the Church made similar provision for similarly motivated widows...indicating that such were involved in "vows" (1 Timothy 5:12) that were not to be cast aside after the fact.
c. By means of fasts and prayers, she "worshiped". The issue in this word is not a sense of "closed eyes, lifted hands, swaying bodies, harmonious songs" but a sense of "doing the work" made necessary by the Plan of God. Luke and Paul both indicate that fasting and prayer are legitimate means to the accomplishment of the will of God. How that works is a mystery. We neither know why "fasting" has any part to play in the outworking of God's will, nor know we why "prayer" is a necessary aspect of the outworking of the plans of the omniscient God. What we do know is that properly motivated fasts and biblically legitimate prayers have a distinct impact upon the outworking of the Plan. That Israel and, indeed, even the Temple service, was in the sad state that it was in makes the mystery even greater. One would think that having an elderly saint on hand, who served night and day with fastings and prayers as a prophetess, would have had a more obvious impact upon the conditions immediately around her. But we know from the records that the Temple worship at this time in history was very corrupt as was the general condition of the nation. That this kind of contrast can exist is "mystery" but is not a reason for despair or for not "serving". Just as 40 years of rebellious wandering in the wilderness under the discipline of Yahweh produced the Pentateuch, so Yahweh also produced the Redeemer in an extremely dark period in Israel's spiritual condition. The danger, as always, is that frustration caused by a very limited perspective might create the kind of anger that moved Moses to sin and be restricted from entrance into the promised land. We dare not allow the reality of a very fallen present to dissuade us from the pursuit of godliness.
7. She came up at the very hour and gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
C. It seems obvious that he wishes to emphasize her age and spiritual service to God.
II. Luke's Use of Anna in His Narrative.
A. She serves as a confirmation of Simeon's words about Jesus being the Christ as the Redeemer of Jerusalem.
B. She also serves as an illustration of Luke's point to Theophilus that one must not allow time or tedium or frustration to obfuscate the words of God.