Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the Asher tribe (referred to by biblical historians as one of the “lost tribes”), was a widow serving at Temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus for presentation to the Lord forty days after his birth. Anna had been married as a virgin and lived with her husband for seven years. The Bible does not reveal his name or mention how old he was when he died. It does say that Anna was forty-four. After becoming a widow, she no longer left the temple but spent untold hours over many years on that holy ground continually serving God, fasting, and praying.
The book of Deuteronomy explains the fate of widows: A widow was required to marry her late husband's brother (Deuteronomy 25:5–10). Such a marriage was called a “levirate marriage.” The brother-in-law could refuse, but the woman could not. If she became pregnant and had a son, the boy would take the name of the woman's dead husband.
A widow's life during ancient times was precarious, as she was often entirely alone, and vulnerable without male family members to provide for her. Anna would have placed herself under God's care with the hope that no one would hurt or exploit her. Admonishments to treat widows well are to be found in Exodus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
Through her penances, Anna had purified herself, and the Lord favored her with the gift of prophecy. When Jesus was brought into the temple, Anna's heart must have quickened, for she believed that the Lord was allowing her to gaze upon the Holy One whose coming had been foretold by the Hebrew prophets of the past. Anna had just heard the old man Simeon, a regular visitor to the temple, blessing the family of Jesus, saying to Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35).
The Bible says nothing more about Anna. Her name means “grace,” and it seems she was aptly named, for her story suggests that she was a woman who required little in life except the grace of God.