In the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke, he sets forth various themes that he will develop throughout the remainder of Luke and Acts. For example, we have already noticed a couple times his mention of the Holy Spirit and filling people. We will see others like prayer and sharing meals with people. Here, we encounter two others: the lifting up of women in the people of God, and their inclusion in prophetic ministry. I know that both of these have been controversial since the latter part of the last century. Hopefully, all of us will be receptive to what the Spirit of God says about these subjects in the Scriptures, regardless of our current opinions. (Now that might sound scary! What is Pastor Dave about to write?)
First, let’s understand the history of female prophets in the old covenant. Only five are mentioned: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and the wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3). Except for Noadiah, God spoke through these women. She tried to hinder Nehemiah in the work God had given him. The Lord used the first three listed to provide guidance for his people.
Second, Miriam and Deborah (cf. Judges 5:1) acted like “worship leaders” for Israel. One of the ideas of the action “to prophesy” is to praise God. You can see this in 1 Chronicles 25:1-3; cf. Numbers 11:25-26; 1 Samuel 10:10-11; 19:20-24. Picture Miriam leading the women in song and dance, after the Lord defeated Egypt at the crossing of the Red Sea. It seems that Anna served as a prophetess in that sense. She was active in worship at the temple. What can we learn from Anna and her ministry for the Lord?
- Though many of the ten northern tribes were scattered after the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, some returned to Jerusalem, when the ten southern tribes returned from exile to Babylon. Anna was of the tribe of Asher (2:36). There has been too much assumed and made of “the lost tribes”. Scripture tells us little, and we do well to keep our opinions within the limits of what God has said.
- Anna was very old (2:36-37). Depending how one translates the Greek, she was between 84 to 100 years old. She had been married for seven years, but from her early twenties she was a widow. She did not allow the sorrows of life to distract her from the worship and service of God. In fact, she the singleness of her widowhood as an opportunity to offer herself continually to worship. The Bible does not say that those who lose their spouses must remain single. The New Testament Scriptures counsel younger widows to remarry (1 Timothy 5:11-14.) Anna lived before that was written, so she was not in disobedience. She chose to give her life to prayer and fasting. She used her life for the glory of God and the good of others. In my second pastorate, a woman named Myrtle, who was blind and lived close to one hundred, was always praying for me. Thank you, Lord, for those who wrestle in prayer for others (Colossians 4:12)! The point is that though you are old, you can always pray. Don’t waste your life, even when you’re confined to a chair in a nursing care facility.
- Anna’s praise on the day on the presentation of Jesus at the temple concerned Jesus (2:38). Very much in touch with God, she thanked God for the infant and spoke about him to all who looked forward for the redemption of Jerusalem, the city of God. Luke will later write in his Gospel about how that redemption was accomplished when the child had grown to manhood and died on a cross. Anna saw that the freedom of God’s people would be accomplished by Jesus.
Luke closes this section with a brief summary of Jesus’ years to the age of twelve. What did Jesus do? He grew, like any other normal child. The years of childhood are years to become strong physically. Parents are wise who carefully nurture the physical development of their children by a proper diet, healthy play times, giving them regular work to do as is fitting for their age, and making sure they have good rest in the evening hours. They are spiritually wise, if they fill their children’s heart with wisdom and pray for the grace of God to be upon them. Mary and Joseph had received a great gift: to raise the Lord’s Messiah, and they did a fine job for the glory of God. If you have young children entrusted to you, be sure to do the same.
Grace and peace, David