February 2 is Candlemas.
On February 3, Catholics remember St Blaise, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers said to guard against ills of the throat. Many attending Mass will have had their throats blessed last Sunday or will have this done on the feast day itself.
Regarding Candlemas, my aforementioned post has the gospel reading, Luke 2:25-38, and the importance of this feast day which recalls Jesus’s Presentation at the Temple.
Candlemas always falls on February 2, because it is, in the Church calendar, the 40th day after Jesus’s birth. According to Jewish law (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15), Mary would have had to complete her ritual purification prior to accompanying Joseph and Jesus to the Temple. The presence of the infant Jesus, although circumcised and formally named (January 1), was required so that the priests could conduct the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn. In those days, Mary and Joseph would also have brought an animal sacrifice. They could only afford a pair of turtledoves.
Luke tells us that there were two holy, elderly people present: Simeon and Anna (Hannah, in Hebrew). Simeon’s prayer over Jesus became the Nunc Dimittis (or Canticle of Simeon). It can be found in Luke 2:29-32:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen Jesus, hence the first words of the canticle.
When Anna heard Simeon’s prayer, she knew that this infant was the Messiah.
Before Christmas, John MacArthur wrote a three-part series of posts about Anna. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.
MacArthur tells us that it is important to remember that, at this time, the only Jews who recognised Jesus as the Messiah were humble, ordinary people — Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna:
All of them were basically nobodies. All of them recognized Him because they were told who He was by angels, or by some other form of special revelation. Luke recounts all their stories in succession, as if he is calling multiple witnesses, one at a time, to establish the matter.
Also recall the role that humble people had in Jesus’s ministry: the apostles and the vast majority of His followers.
Luke describes Anna as a prophetess. MacArthur explains that she is unlikely to have received divine revelation directly. It is more probable that she was a lay minister for women, either teaching them or praying with them. She would have had no teaching authority over men.
Anna lived at the temple and was known for her holiness. She spoke of God and Scripture, little else:
So when Luke called her a “prophetess,” he gave insight into her character and a clue about what occupied her mind and her conversation.
MacArthur says there were only five women referred to as ‘prophetess’ in the Old Testament. All had brief divine revelations, so were not on a par with the male prophets who actually held what MacArthur terms ‘prophetic office’.
Moses’s and Aaron’s sister Miriam was the first. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Pharaoh and his army were swallowed up and drowned. Moses sang a song of thanksgiving, and afterward Miriam sang a one-stanza song of prophecy (Exodus 15:20-21):
20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Unfortunately, the fact that Miriam received prophecy went to her head and Numbers 12 tells us that God was angry with her for criticising Moses about his wife. He gave her leprosy for seven days, during which time she had to be well outside the camp.
The next prophetess was Deborah (Judges 4:4):
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
She was the only female judge in the era prior to the establishment of a monarchy in ancient Israel:
In fact, she was the only woman in all of Scripture who ever held that kind of leadership position and was blessed for it.
Deborah also had a brief prophecy from the Lord, which she gave to her fellow judge Barak, which led them to make a journey together (Judges 4:6-10):
6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
MacArthur said her presence was God’s rebuke to the men of her generation who were fearful. She did not see herself as a leader like Barak, but rather as a ‘mother in Israel’ (Judges 5:7).
Huldah appears in 2 Kings 22, where she warned of the need for repentance or the people would face the wrath of God (2 Kings 22:14-20):
14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15 And she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king.
The parallel passage is in 2 Chronicles 34:22-28.
Two other women
Two more women are referred to as ‘prophetess’.
Noadiah was a false prophetess (Nehemiah 6:14):
Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
Isaiah’s wife was the other. She was more of an honorary prophetess, by virtue of being married to him. She did not receive any divine revelation but the prophet refers to his wife in Isaiah 8:3:
And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;
St Luke tells us that Anna’s father was Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. Asher means ‘happiness’, Phanuel ‘Face of God’ and Hannah ‘grace’. Asherites were well known for their wisdom and their daughters for their beauty.
Anna was only married for seven years before her husband died. By the time she saw the infant Jesus, she was already very elderly:
The Greek text is ambiguous as to her exact age. It might mean literally that she had been a widow for eighty-four years. Assuming she married very young (remember, thirteen was a typical age for engagement in that society), then lived with her husband seven years before he died, that would make her at least 104—very old indeed, but entirely possible.
More likely, what the text is saying is that she was now an eighty-four-year-old widow. She was married for seven years when her husband died, and having never remarried, she had now lived as a widow for more than six decades.
Widowhood in the ancient world meant much hardship. Anna would have struggled financially most of her adult life:
Anna probably either lived on charity or supported herself out of the remnants of her family’s inheritance. Either way, she must have led a very frugal, chaste, and sober life.
Luke says that Anna never left the temple. From this we can conclude that she lived in one of the modest apartments on the temple grounds, most of which housed visiting priests. MacArthur thinks that Anna might have been a caretaker at the temple when she was younger and that, perhaps, she was given the apartment in recognition of her service. Another possibility is that it was an act of charity to her in hardship.
Luke also tells us that Anna fasted and prayed continuously. MacArthur explains:
Abstaining from food per se has no mystical effect on anything spiritual. But fasting with prayer reveals a heart so consumed with praying, and so eager to receive the blessing being sought, that the person simply has no interest in eating. That is when fasting has real value.
Anna apparently had been doing this as a pattern for sixty-four years or longer. Here was a passionate woman!
He thinks she was praying for the coming of the Messiah:
there is little doubt that one of the main subjects of her prayers was an earnest plea for the very same thing Simeon was so eager for: “the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25 NKJV). Her hope, like Eve’s, was for the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Her longing, like Sarah’s (Galatians 3:8, 16), was for the Seed of Abraham, who would bless all the nations of the world. She was praying that God would soon send the promised deliverer, the Messiah.
Despite her living at the temple, MacArthur believes that she was fully aware of the corruption at the heart of the religious leaders. She was there to be close to her Lord:
Remember, she belonged to the believing remnant, not the apostate majority. She had no part in the error and hypocrisy that Jesus would later rebuke among the scribes and Pharisees. She was not a participant in the money-changing system at the temple that stirred His wrath. She knew the Pharisees were corrupt legalists. She understood that the Sadducees were spiritually bankrupt liberals. She truly loved her God. She understood His heart and mind.
Lessons from Anna
MacArthur’s essays on Anna are most inspiring. Men can learn from them, too.
What struck me in particular were these:
She genuinely believed His Word. She was a wonderfully remarkable woman indeed—perhaps one of the most devout people we meet anywhere on the pages of Scripture. No one else comes to mind who fasted and prayed faithfully for more than sixty years! …
Anna knew who the believing remnant were. She could identify the true worshipers—the ones who, like her, were expectantly awaiting the Messiah. She sought such people out, and at every opportunity from then on, she spoke to them about Him.
It is unlikely that Anna lived to experience Jesus’s ministry. Yet, God answered her lifetime of prayers by giving her the blessing of seeing Jesus.
And, what did she do next? She prayed in thanksgiving and spoke to all of the Messiah (Luke 2:38):
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna the prophetess is a true role model for all Christians.