Anna, A New Testament Prophet
Anna was the daughter of Penuel (or Phanuel). Penuel’s name meant “The face of God,” or “The appearance of God” (“el” means “God.”) Anna was of the tribe of Asher, which had traditionally claimed the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Tyre, and western and coastal Galilee, as its inheritance from the Lord.
When Jacob had given his blessing, at the end of his life, he had said of this tribe, “Asher grows fine foods, and he will supply the king’s delicacies.” (Genesis 49:20 Common English Bible CEB). With comparatively low temperatures for that region, and with much rainfall, Asher had some of the most fertile land in the whole area, with rich pasture, wooded hills, and lush orchards. A prosperous tribe, Asher was well-known for its olive oil.
Whether Anna’s family was also wealthy is not known. She had been widowed after only 7 years of marriage, evidently without having had children. When she found herself alone she went to the temple to live and serve, never actually leaving its premises again until she died at the age of 84 years.
Interestingly, when Luke described this event in Jesus’ life, he spent more time on Simeon, but named Anna as a prophet.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 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 NIV)
Mary and Joseph, as conservative, God-honoring Jews, had brought their infant son Jesus to the temple when he was eight days old in order to be circumcised. This was the oldest covenant sign God had given to His people, through Abraham. It was the mark without which no Jew could lay claim to God’s promises. There was a proscribed time of purification, carefully detailed in the Mosaic Law, after which both Mary and her son could come to the temple.
This was a particularly important time for Joseph, and for Mary, as this was the first son, one God claimed as holy to Himself, as He did with every firstborn in Israel. They had to make a thanksgiving sacrifice, which also consecrated their baby boy as God's. Because they were so very poor, God made provision in His law that instead of a lamb they could bring Him “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:21-24 CEB)
Anna fasting and praying at the temple for so many decades, instantly recognized the infant Jesus as Messiah. From that point forward Anna was an energetic and joyful evangelist, teaching and prophesying about God’s redemption now come to Israel.