Women of the Bible - Monday, September 16, 2013

Anna

Her name means: "Favor" or "Grace"

Her character: Married for only seven years, she spent the long years of her widowhood fasting and praying in the temple, abandoning herself entirely to God. A prophetess, she was one of the first to bear witness to Jesus.
Her sorrow: As a widow, she would probably have been among the most vulnerable members of society, with no one to provide for her financially or to take care of her if her health failed.
Her joy: That her own eyes beheld the Messiah she had longed to see.
Key Scriptures: Luke 2:22-38

Her Story

A small bird darted past the Court of the Gentiles, flew up to the Women's Court, and then on to the Court of Israel (one of the inner courts of the temple, accessible only to Jewish men). Anna blinked as she watched the beating wings swerve into the sunlight and vanish. She wondered into which privileged corner of the temple the little bird had disappeared.

For most of her eighty-four years, she had been a widow who spent her days praying and fasting in the temple. Though Anna had walked past the outer court thousands of times, she never failed to notice the warning inscribed in its walls in both Greek and Latin: "No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue." It was an awesome thing to come into the presence of the Holy One.

Though she could not echo the prayer of Jewish men, who praised God for creating them neither Gentiles nor women, she could at least be grateful for the privilege of ascending beyond the Court of the Gentiles to the Women's Court, where she would be that much closer to the Most Holy Place. Having done so, she bowed her head, rocking back and forth to the rhythm of her prayers (Psalm 84:1-3).

Suddenly a voice interrupted her recitation of the familiar psalm. Old Simeon, she saw, was holding a baby to his breast, pronouncing words that thrilled her soul: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Like her, Simeon had lived for nothing but Israel's consolation. Though he had not seen, yet he had believed. Anna watched as the child's parents hung on the old man's words. Then he handed the infant back to his mother, this time speaking more softly: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Anna placed her arms gently around the young mother's shoulders and gazed at the sleeping infant. Words of thanksgiving spilled from her lips. Her heart felt buoyant, her hope unsinkable. More vividly than Jacob, who had dreamed of a ladder full of angels, or Moses, who had beheld a bush burning in the desert, she, Anna, a widow and prophetess from the tribe of Asher, had experienced the very presence of God. Her eyes had seen the promised child, whose brilliance would scatter the darkness and bring deliverance for all God's people.

Now she too felt like a sparrow soaring freely in the house of God. It no longer mattered that she was forbidden entry into the innermost courts of the temple. God himself was breaking down the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile, male and female, revealing himself to all who hungered for his presence. That day a child had transformed the Women's Court into the holiest place of all.

Scripture doesn't tell us whether Anna ever actually wished she were allowed to enter the innermost courts of the temple in Jerusalem. But her longing for God is obvious. Clearly, she was a woman with a great spiritual appetite, who abandoned her life to God and was rewarded by meeting Jesus and his parents just forty days after his birth, during the presentation in the temple.

Her Promise

Anna's life revolved around prayer and fasting in the temple. She evidently had no family, no home, no job. Instead, God was her family, the temple her home, and prayer her occupation. Though you may not have the freedom to spend every moment in prayer, as she did, you can be sure the time you do spend is never wasted. If you long to see your Savior, to experience his presence in your life, let Anna's devotion encourage you.

This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.

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