The dialogue of Anna and Simeon is so carefully constructed, it has fascinated me to both read what is written, and also wonder what is behind those words. That is to read the dialogue of both Anna and Simeon independently, and also ponder how these two are related. Everything to their names, their tribes, and their temple function seem like they are included add an extra dimension something to the story. For now, I think I will investigate Anna just a bit.
Anna is the daughter of Phanuel, and Phanuel means “the face of God,” while
Anna means “Grace.” The name comes from the story in Genesis where Jacob wrestles with God, and it is in that story that Jacobs name is changed to Israel; Israel means “he struggles with God”.” Simeon’s name also gives reference to God, Simeon means “God has heard.” It is interesting that the name of Anna’s father is derived from that struggle with God, as Anna herself throughout her many years must have faced many struggles. Seeking an answer to those struggles are likely why she has been in that temple for so many years. I add too that Mary herself struggled with God, to struggle or wrestle with God, is to ponder God. When Mary holds something in her heart, she is pondering, struggling, or wrestling. “And she held it in her heart” is a phrase used often in the Nativity gospels. To think of Anna’s wrestling in the way that Jacob wrestled with God does signify a major event. Jacob’s wrestling with God gave birth to the name Israel, Anna is witnessing an event even greater.(Does Anna become Christian, as she is one of the first to witness this beginning movement?) To struggle, for emphasis does not imply battling against, it can also be a struggle to discern or to learn. There also is a comparison between Anna and Mary. Anna has spent many years in that temple after her husband’s death. And Mary spent many years in that same temple before her betrothal to Joseph. I wonder if this is the first time Anna and Mary have crossed paths. Anna’s prophesy is not a flash of thought, this is a woman who deeply ponders her Lord. In her wrestling with God, she too like her father has seen the face of God; and that face is that of the infant Jesus.
The name of Anna’s tribe Asher is also worth investigating, there must be a reason why it is mentioned. That tribe was located in the northern region of the kingdom and was known for its fertile soil, and was a major producer of olive oil for the kingdom. Rich in resources, but it also had its struggles. That tribes land did not fully separate from the Canaanites that resided on the land. The land was eventually invaded by the Assyrians, and that portion of the kingdom collapsed with the people moving into the southern kingdom. They eventually become known as one of the lost tribes of Israel. Saint Luke likely would have known about that fertile region once inhabited by Anna’s tribe, and he also would have known that the land given them was no longer in control of that tribe. The amount of detail that Luke gives about Anna, I think is important in learning about her character and her prophesy, and also it emphasizes the importance Luke places on her. Though she has no official role in the temple like Simeon, her thoughts on that Christ child might be the more important of the two. Simeon awaits the fulfillment of a promise, while Anna wrestles with her prophesy of salvation. She actively seeks the Lord.