And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow for 84 years. She never left the temple, but continued to worship there night and day with times of fasting and prayer. Just then she came forward and began to thank God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Alice C. Linsley
The name Anna is suggestive of connections to the Annu who were among Abraham's Nilotic ancestors. We find the root in numerous languages: Hausa annabi, meaning prophet, and the Hausa word annuri, meaning heavenly light. The Annu or Ainu were the builders of the original holy city of Onn (Heliopolis) on the Nile. Onn is a variant spelling of Annu. The Virgin Mary's mother was named Anna and so was a very high ranked Horite woman, the mother of Dishon and Oholibamah. Oholibamah married Esau the Younger. The name is clearly connected to the Horites of Edom and to Abraham whose territory extended the length and breath of Edom.
Anna was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, a tribe known for producing prophets. Asher was the seventh son of Jacob. His mother was Leah’s servant, Zilpah (Gen. 30:13). His name means “blessedness” or "contentment". The name appears in one of the most important Old Testament passages: where God gives his name to Moses, saying Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus 3:14). It is often interpreted to mean I am that I am, though it more literally translates as "I-shall-be that I-shall-be." It may be understood to mean: “I am the he who was, am and will be.”
Asher had three sons by one wife. Their names were Jimnah, Jishvah and Jishvi and they represent a tribal unit. By his other wife he had a son, Beriah, and a daughter, Serah. Serah is also mentioned in Numbers 26:46 and in 1 Chronicles 7:30. As we have learned, when a daughter is named in the Old Testament, we should pay attention to her. If she marries her cousin, her father’s name would be carried forward in the naming of her first-born son. If she marries her half-brother, her son would be regarded as belonging to her father’s household.
Dr Leila Leah Bronner, a Jewish commentator, has written, “To the modern reader, genealogical lists of names appear unimportant and tedious, but genealogical lists are of great importance in Jewish tradition. They affirm that the history of Israel was no human accident but was instead the result of divine purpose and plan in history... The fact that Serah is mentioned no less than three times by name in genealogical lists is remarkable in itself. Her triple appearance may be what made her seem to the sages extraordinary enough for them to want to embroider marvelous, even myth-like stories about her. The company Serah keeps may also have something to do with it: not only does Serah live during a time of exemplary women, but her closest male relations are among the giants of Israelite history-Jacob (her grandfather), Joseph (her uncle), and Asher (her father).” (From here.)
Asher’s son, Beriah, is the father of Heber (related to the word “Hebrew”). Heber was either the grandfather of Jael's Kenite husband or he was Jael's husband. (In Judges 4:17-24 we read how Jael killed Sisera, as foretold by Deborah.) The marriage of Asher's grandson to a Kenite bride indicates that the lines descending from Terah (Abraham's father) continued to intermarry as we have seen with the lines of Cain and Seth, and Ham and Shem. This means that Asher is connected to the oldest royal house alluded to in Genesis, the house of Enock/Anak. Deuteronomy 33:24 tells us that Moses blessed the tribe of Asher with these words: “Let Asher be the most blessed of the sons! Let him be the most privileged of his brothers and let him bathe his feet in oil.” (Remember the woman who came to anoint Jesus’ feet with oil before His crucifixion? Likely she was a the clan of Asher.)
In the New Testament we meet a remarkable woman of the tribe of Asher - Anna, the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel. She was a widow who remained in the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. In a sense she is the first known “monastic” in the Bible.
In the ancient world, widows attached themselves to shrines or temples once their husbands died. This still happens in both west central Africa and in India (the western and eastern ends of the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion). The Hindu scholar, Dr Shubhash C. Sharma, explains: "The same type of consideration, as … for young girls, is generally applicable to adult women, especially the widows, when they decide to live in temples and religious places... Note that even though the widows living in such places (temples etc.) might number in several thousand they still represent an extremely small minority relative to millions of Indian widows..." (From here.)
Anna is the only widow that is known to have lived in the temple. Most chose to live with their families (as did Naomi and Oprah), but Anna (like Ruth) chose to follow a different path.
Anna was well known as a "prophetess" before Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple. She must have made other remarkable proclamations that were known to be true. In Luke 2 she bears witness to the appearing of Messiah and stands as one of the three witnesses to the Kingdom. Jesus said, "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd." (John 10:16) The Church is one flock and those who died in expectation of Messiah's appearing are the other flock. The kingdom of God consists of these two flocks. Anna, along with Simeon and John the Baptist, are the last of the generation that lived in expectation of Messiah's appearing. They are the three witnesses to which St. John alludes: "This is He who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit it truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and these three agree as one." (I John 5:6-8) Simeon, the priest, represents the Blood. Anna, the prophetess, represents the Spirit, and John the Baptist represents the Water.
Anna was a true daughter of her ancestor Serah, the seer. According to the Babylonian Talmud, God delivered the Israelites from Egypt because of their righteous women. It says, “As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that [Serah's] generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt.” Because of their reputation for being righteous, the women of Asher's tribe were sought as wives by rulers and priests.
The Prophetess Anna shared Serah’s prophetic gift. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Serah was gifted with special sight. She is credited with finding Joseph’s true bones which the Egyptians had buried in the Nile to bless the waters. Likewise Anna identified the true Messiah, He who rose from the grave as Joseph's bones rose from the Nile.
The Talmud contains this legend about the women seers of Asher: “It is related that Serah, daughter of Asher, was a survivor of that generation. Moses went to her and asked, ‘Dost thou know where Joseph is buried?’ She answered him, ‘The Egyptians made a metal coffin for him which they fixed in the river Nile so that its waters should be blessed.’ Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and exclaimed, ‘Joseph, Joseph! The time has arrived which the Holy One, blessed be He swore, I will deliver you, and the oath which thou didst impose upon the Israelite has reached [the time of fulfillment].’ Immediately Joseph's coffin floated [on the surface of the water]” (Sota 13a).
One of the Three Witnesses
Anna is one of the three witnesses who stand at the threshold between the Old Testament and the New Testament and show us that there is continuity of faith. Instead of dispensations that stress new and different action on God's part, we have a historical continuum: those who lived and died in expectation of the appearing of the Son of God (BC saints) and those who live and die having trusted Jesus as the Son of God (AD saints). Together these saints are unified in Christ. That is the meaning of the "communion of saints."
On this continuum, the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 is attested by three persons: Simeon the Priest (blood), Anna the Prophetess (Spirit) and John the Baptist (water). In the ancient way of thinking, heavenly realities are observed as a reflection on earth, so that what is attested in heaven is also attested on earth. Simeon, Anna and John the Forerunner are the earthly witnesses of whom John speaks: "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement." (I John 5:5-8)
The three witnesses stand at the nexus of the two covenants and testify to Jesus, the promised Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners and to restore Paradise. The central problem with Dispensationalism is that it tears this seamless work of God into many pieces. Even the soldiers at the Cross had the sense to cast lots for Jesus' seamless robe rather than divide it between them.