Studying Anna for a sermon led me to some unexpected insights about her devotional life. It inspired me to put a multi-episode series together.
“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, 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.” (Luke 2:36–38 NIV11)
What do we learn about Anna’s relationship with God?
Her relationship with God was not affected by her questionable heritage.
Let’s look back into her ancestral past. Penuel (Phanuel) was her father. His name indicates his origins as Peniel where Jacob saw God ‘face to face’, Genesis 32:30.
‘A town was afterwards built there (Judg. 8:8; 1 Kings 12:25). The men of this place refused to succour Gideon and his little army when they were in pursuit of the Midianites (Judg. 8:1-21). On his return, Gideon slew the men of this city and razed its lofty watch-tower to the ground.’ Easton’s Bible Dictionary
Not a place to shout about. A little like my origins. I was born in Luton — a town that regularly comes in the top 10 in polls for the worst place to live in the UK.
After Israel split into two, Jeroboam established the northern kingdom (Israel) and built up Peniel as one of several alternative capitals.
“Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel.”(1 Kings 12:25 NIV11)
By and large, the northern kingdom was historically the less spiritual of the two and the first to go into exile. Not only that, but her tribe — Asher — was affectively dissolved as a result of the exile. She was a tribe-orphan from an unspiritual nation and a town devoted to false worship. Not the best heritage.
For all that this does not sound promising, it is a typical example of the way that God defies expectations, and turns things on their head. Perhaps part of what is going on here is the message that if someone like Anna with her heritage could recognise Messiah, then anyone could! Is God paving the way for the Samaritans and even the Gentiles to recognise Jesus?
Do you sense your background makes you a less impressive Christian? Have you limited the vision for what God can do with your life because you struggle with vision for yourself? Anna had further limitations on top of the ones we’ve touched on today. We will look at those in a following recording, but it must be an inspiration to you and I that she did not allow her questionable heritage to diminish her devotion to God.
I will conclude today by reading this passage from 1 Corinthians. Why not take it and use it as an inspiration for your prayer today?
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31 NIV11)
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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)
God bless, Malcolm