Have you ever pondered what life must have been like for some of the great Bible characters? Maybe you have even pictured yourself in that period of history, "observing and listening" as they went about their lives in whatever capacity the Almighty had called them to?
I would like to introduce an article written by a very good friend of mine. It is an article that will warm your heart and cause you to want to read more from the book of Luke. Especially the second chapter.
Helen Gwilliam is a woman of prayer and loves to spend time in the bible. She has a unique gift of writing through which she has brought to "life" a Bible character of whom we hear little. With thoughtful words, Helen presents a "picture" of the life of Anna the prophetess. I think you will enjoy it--I certainly have. And I am thankful to Helen for allowing me to share it with you.
"There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 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." Lk.2:36-38 (NIV)
The warm autumn sun felt comforting and invigorating on Phanuel as he worked steadily to bring in the remaining harvest of vegetables. The Feast of Tabernacles was only days away, and there was much excitement in Jerusalem. Phanuel and his wife had much to be thankful for, the fields of barley had been plentiful, and their storage bins were filled with produce. They had a family of seven healthy children, who were all taught in the ways of the Lord. As he worked, Phanuel thought of the prophecy that Jacob had given to the tribe of Asher many generations ago, "Asher's food will be rich, he will provide delicacies fit for a King." Gen 49:20 (NKJV)
Often, when Phanuel was in the fields, he had a young companion at his side, his youngest daughter Anna. Although Phanuel loved all his children, it was Anna whom he watched with a keen eye. Being his youngest, he naturally felt protective of her; but Anna seemed to possess something that was beyond her natural ability. Phanuel sensed giftedness in his daughter, which other family members had noticed as well. "Ah, my little Anna," said Phanuel as he scooped her into his arms and twirled her around, "perhaps one day you will serve delicacies to the king." Anna squealed with delight as she put her small arms around her father's neck. All was safe and secure in her world.
As Anna grew older, her childlike sweetness blossomed into that of a beautiful young woman. She was totally unaware of her beauty, and even possessed a childlike innocence. When Anna attended the Temple with her family on the Sabbath, several of the young men would give her admiring glances and would try to catch her attention. Anna seemed oblivious to their antics and would only smile at them in a courteous fashion. Her heart always seemed strangely warmed when she was in the Temple. Anna loved hearing the things of God and listened closely when the Torah was read.
When Anna turned fourteen, a new family moved to Jerusalem and began coming to the temple. Phanuel and his family became friends with this family and would often share the Sabbath meal with them. Their oldest son Ethan would sometimes strike up a conversation with Anna. Although Ethan was slightly older than Anna, it soon became obvious that they were kindred spirits and shared many of the same interests. Ethan had a mischievous personality and loved playing tricks on the adoring Anna. Their friendship blossomed into young love, and Phanuel was not surprised when young Ethan asked for Anna's hand in marriage.
The joy that Ethan and Anna exuded was contagious, and everyone felt that this young couple had a blessed and a favored future. Together, they made plans for their life, they talked of their home, the babies that they would have, their hopes and dreams. Anna dreamed of having a large family, and felt in her heart that their firstborn would be a son. Every day as she prayed and gave thanks to God for the son she knew she would have. The weeks soon turned into months and the months into years. Still there was no sign of pregnancy. Anna knew that God would give her the desire of her heart and continued to seek him for a son. She remembered that even though Sarah was barren, God gave her a son when she was past childbearing age.
Soon Ethan and Anna would celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. Anna knew that seven was God's number of completeness and perfection. Surely this was the year that God would open her womb. Anna fasted and prayed and sought the Lord's direction. As she prayed, she began to sense that this would be a year of great testing and trial to her faith. Anna also knew she must stand firm and believe that God had a plan and a purpose for her life far beyond what she could think, or ask, or imagine.
Several months later, Ethan came home early from the fields. He was weak and burning with a fever. Anna sent word for the physician to come. His eyes became dark and troubled as he examined Ethan, and he motioned for Anna to meet him outside. As he shared the prognosis with Anna, she sat in stunned silence, not believing what she was hearing. Her head wanted to scream a thousand "NO's!" However, she remembered to put her trust in Jehovah, and felt a quiet peace growing in her heart.
Ethan died a young man, not even twenty-five years old. Anna watched in disbelief as her young husband's body was lowered into the ground. "Oh God," she prayed quietly, "Were all my hopes and dreams just foolishness? Lord, I even felt that it was your desire to give me a son. Was I mistaken?"
After Ethan's burial, Anna's father encouraged her to move back into their home. Yet, Anna often found herself going to the Temple to be alone with the Lord. Many days, she would lose track of time and simply spend the night at the temple, worshiping and praising the Lord. At first, Phanuel would attempt to go to the temple and bring her home to be with them, but, after a time, he realized that is where her heart was and left her be.
One afternoon in the middle of the week, Anna was surprised to see Benesh, her husband's brother, come to the temple. "Anna, I must talk to you." The urgency in his voice startled her. “Anna,” continued Benesh, “Come home with me and be my wife. As I am Ethan's brother, my duty is to care and provide for you. You no longer have to live here. I will give you a home.” Anna felt flattered by his proposal. She knew he was a kind man, and would provide for her well, yet she knew that was not God's will for her. "Thank you for your gracious offer", responded Anna, "but I know that is not God's best plan for me.” As Benesh left the temple he wondered if perhaps Anna's grief was greater than anyone realized. "Maybe I should have been more insistent," thought Benesh.
Benesh was right. Anna was grieving. However, the grief she felt was not so much for her husband but for the people of God. She saw their apathy and their coldness. Although they honored God with their lips she knew that their hearts were far from Him. "Oh God", cried Anna, "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Raise up a mighty prophet like Elijah, O Lord, send a deliverer."
Year after year Anna continued in prayer and intercession for the nation of Israel. Although many people did not understand her, they respected her, and realized that there was a Spirit of Grace and Glory on her life. Even well into her forties, Anna was still a beautiful woman, the Presence of God that she carried seemed to make her even more beautiful. She was filled with a joy and a peace that flowed from her innermost being. Often, her friends would encourage her to leave the temple life and begin to teach other women about God. "Anna," they would chide her, "you know so much about the things of God. Think of the ministry you could have here in Jerusalem. God has not planned for you to be hidden away for the rest of your life." Standing resolute in her convictions, Anna would not be moved. She knew the voice of the Lord so well, and knew that she must remain true to her calling. Others felt her life was a waste, that she would be better off working with the poor, and doing something more productive with her life.
But not for one minute did Anna think that her life was wasted, God was guiding her life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. The prophetic gifting that she had received, as a young child was being honed and sharpened as God spoke clearer and clearer to her. She rarely shared these things with others but pondered them in her heart and prayed and fasted as God directed her. In turn, the Lord knew that this well-prepared vessel could be trusted and was fit for the master's use. She had sat in the Lord's council for many years and was now part of his inner circle.
The years passed quickly. Anna was now well into her seventies. Her frame was very thin from eating a simple diet along with continuous fasting. Occasionally, friends and family members would visit with Anna at the temple. "Anna, move to the country with us. You are so thin. Come and eat some good food and get some fresh air. You have been in this musty temple almost 50 years." Even though Anna's body was weakened, her spirit waxed stronger and stronger. She knew the remaining years of her life would be crucial to fulfilling the destiny God had ordained for her.
The Lord's instructions to her were simple and direct. He told her of things to come, and spoke of a man that would be born to prepare the way of the Lord. “Forerunner" was the word He used. Although this man would be strange in his lifestyle, he would shake the religious leaders of Israel. "Pray for him, Anna, he must be totally separated to me. No wine must ever touch his lips, and he will be filled with my Spirit even from birth. Pray that my purposes will be fully accomplished through him."
One afternoon as Anna was preparing her evening meal, the Lord began quietly speaking to her. "Anna," said the Lord, "I have heard your prayers for many years. Even as a young woman, I heard your petitions asking me for a son. Today I have come to tell you that you will indeed have a son. This is not a child who will come through your womb, but a child born through the years of the travailing of your Spirit. This baby is the promised Messiah and His birth will be the culmination of your life's work. The scripture will be fulfilled, 'For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' Isaiah 9:6" (NIV) Anna could hardly sleep that night as she basked in the joy and wonder of the words of the Lord.
The call to intercession in her life grew more and more intense. Anna realized that principalities and powers were raging over Israel. Night after night, she slept very little as the warfare became more and more fierce. She sometimes wondered if this calling would claim her very life as the battle raged on, but she always sensed the Lord sustaining her and praying through her. War raged in the heavenlies as Anna prayed with groans that words cannot express. Although she was a seasoned intercessor, nothing in all her life prepared her for the weight of this burden of prayer. She knew she could not count her own life dear and was sure she would not survive under the pressure of the warfare. All Anna could do was look to the Lord, and trust Him as the battle grew in intensity.
Suddenly, everything around her became so still and quiet, and a great peace flooded Anna’s whole being. She thought she must be dreaming, "what has happened Lord?" Anna stood up and stepped outside in the cool of the evening. A star in the East was so brilliant that it illuminated the whole city. Off in the distance, yet coming from deep within she could hear a heavenly chorus exclaiming, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to whom His favor rests." Luke 2:14 (NIV) The glory of God seemed to be everywhere. Anna fell to the ground and worshipped the Lord. She knew the course of history had been changed.
The next several days were a blur of joy and excitement, mingled with deep restful sleep. Early one morning as she was preparing for the day, she heard the voice of Simeon in the temple. Simeon was well known as a devout and godly man in Jerusalem. Anna knew that he would not be in the temple unless the Holy Spirit had directed him. She stayed in the background, watching as Simeon stood with a young couple and began prophesying over their baby. "Could this really be?" thought Anna. Joy surged through her entire being.
When Simeon noticed Anna, he motioned her forth. As the young mother passed her baby to the aged Anna their eyes locked. Though generations apart, a deep understanding seemed to pass between the two women as each knew that they had a special part to play in the birth of this baby. A fire burned in Anna's heart as she held the tiny infant. In some ways, He looked so ordinary, and yet He almost seemed to be speaking to her. "I am the Bread of Life, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the True Vine, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." Anna knew that the babe was "Emmanuel - God with us."
Not too many weeks later, the Lord called Anna home to be with Him. Yet Anna lives on. Today, she is a part of that great cloud of witnesses. Her spirit lives in the hearts of thousands of men and women who are again looking for the great Messiah to come - not as a baby in swaddling clothes, but as a King clothed with great glory. “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him." Rev 1:7 (NIV) "Even so, come Lord Jesus." Rev 22:20 (KJV)