While Simeon was still testifying about Jesus, Luke says a prophetess named Anna (Hannah) of the tribe of Asher, who lived in Jerusalem entered the Temple compound (Luke 2:36-38). Why would he write what amounts to three verses, describing a widow of about eighty-four years of age, who had been married for only seven years when she was very young? He uses two verses to describe her, only to say that she gave thanks (presumably over what Simeon had said) and spoke of Jesus to anyone who looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (Luke 2:38). Why was this important enough for Luke to mention it to Theophilus (Luke 1:3), as an apologetic to support the fact that Jesus was the Messiah?
What may be interesting is that Jewish tradition considers the women of tribe of Asher to be very beautiful and desirable for wives of both high priests and kings. Scripture tells us that Moses blessed the tribe saying: “Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil” (Deuteronomy 33:24). Since the tribe was never particularly more numerous than the other tribes, Rashi, the famous Jewish rabbi of the 11th and early 12th centuries AD, claimed in Jewish midrash on the above verse that the daughters of Asher were probably very beautiful and desirable to the high priests who were anointed with oil.
In Genesis 49:20 Jacob blessed Asher saying that his food would be rich, and he would yield royal delights. Again Jewish midrash on this verse points to the priesthood by showing that the Hebrew for “rich” is shamen (H8082), and the same four Hebrew consonant letters are used to produce the word “eight” – shemoneh (H8083). This means, claims the midrash, Asher’s children would wear the eight garments of the high priest. Therefore, although Asher’s sons had no direct claim to the priesthood, Asher’s daughters would marry high priests, thus making some of Asher’s descendents high priests. The point in all this is that Anna, may have been the wife of a former priest who had officiated the office of high priest. She departed not from the Temple during the times of prayer, just as is said of the sons of Aaron (Leviticus 10:7). This would have been especially to Theophilus, who, I have argued, was the officiating high priest at the time when Luke wrote his Gospel narrative. In other words, her testimony would have carried weight with Theophilus.
Luke tells us that Anna (Hannah) is the daughter of Phanuel, which means face of God. Luke seems to point to Jacob’s struggle in Genesis 32:30 where he claims he saw the face of God and named the place where he wrestled with him all night, Peniel, which is Penuel in the next verse (Genesis 32:31). It was here where Jacob’s walk changed in that God put his thigh out of joint (Genesis 32:25). It is interesting that in Jesus we see the face of God (made flesh – John 1:1, 14), and that our walk is changed as we gaze at Jesus (2Corinthians 3:18), the perfect Image of God (Hebrews 1:3).
Luke’s narrative claims Anna (Hannah) came into the Temple compound at the same moment that Simeon spoke of Jesus, and she gave thanks to the Lord for the coming of the Messiah and told all those present who waited for his coming (Luke 2:38). There may also be a play on the name, Hannah (Anna in Luke’s Gospel) and the word **favored** (one) in Luke 1:28 where Gabriel greeted Mary. It can’t be seen in the Greek, but the angel, no doubt, spoke to Mary in Aramaic or Hebrew—the language of the young girl. It was brought to my attention by a Messianic rabbi that the word favored in Hebrew would be chen (H2580), and this is derived from chanan (H2603). From these roots we would get the name Yochanan (John, meaning grace of the Lord). The feminine of Yochanan is channah or Hannah, which also means grace (of the Lord). Hannah’s (Anna’s) very name may have caused Mary to recall the angel’s visit and testimony just prior to her becoming pregnant with Jesus.
I have written a few blogs concerning a number of parallels between the births and early lives of Jesus and Samuel, Hannah’s son (1Samuel 1:20-28) and Mary and Hannah. It is interesting, at least for me, to find another Hannah in the Temple at the time that Jesus was being presented before the Lord. Luke tells us that this Hannah spoke of Jesus to all “who waited for the redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:38). It was as though the grace (Hannah) of the Lord announced him, whose coming was full of grace (channah) and truth (John 1:14, 17).