ANNA, THE INTERCESSOR
Traditional nativity sets include the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, some angels, a few shepherds, and some wise men. A camel is usually added, and a sheep or two. Yet, there was Anna and Simeon who had great prophetic announcement that added to that of the angels, shepherds, wise men, and Mary and Joseph’s.
The wise men came about eight days after the shepherds. So those were two separate events that are made to look like one in the nativity scene. The message of Anna and Simeon happened after the flight of the family to Egypt, and return in time for the purification of Mary.
Anna was a prophetess whose name meant ‘grace’. She had been a beautiful woman, we suppose, for she was of the tribe of Asher. Asher’s daughters, and their descendants, were known for not only an outward beauty, but for their beauty of grace, of spiritual nature.
"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all that looked for the redemption in Jerusalem."
This aged woman (likely about 103 years old) had long anticipated a coming Savior, a Messiah. She stayed in the Temple, determined to be ready, and she prayed and fasted much for the sins of the nation. God rewarded this great intercessor of the age, by allowing her to be near to Simeon when he began to prophesy over Jesus. She stepped into that crowd and gave thanks to God for allowing her to see this Jesus.
Of the tribe of Asher
The tribe of Asher is one of the tribes that is said not to have returned from the exile. Yet, a few did. Another few of the tribe had not been taken in the captivity. Anna seems to have had her descendants to have been in the exile, but were so zealous to return that a few of them did make it back.
Her great hope for national deliverance had made it possible for her to return, to get into Jerusalem itself. When her husband died, after only seven years of marriage, she had the spiritual desire to not return to her homeland area of past, the land of the tribe of Asher. There would be no one there that would know her, no one to fill the void made by her widowhood. She dedicated herself to prophetic ministry, and began to preach in the Temple day and night, that the Messiah would be coming soon.
The priests of the tribe of Levi, and the royalty of the tribe of Judah, normally looked to the women from Asher for their wives. The nature they had filled a need of those in the priesthood, and those with duties of royalty. Yet, even though she was a very young widow of around 20, she had resisted the offers of her husband’s kin, or of other priests. Her modest desires were only to be near to where the Messiah would soon come, and to be expectant of seeing Him there.
Her beauty was glorious, for it was inward beauty. She had been trained to look forward to the coming of the Messiah. She had a spiritual maturity that longed for spiritual blessings, not earthly ones. Anna had a personal dignity, a spirit of anxiousness for God’s blessings, that made her a well-known speaker to those in the Temple of the soon coming of the Messiah. Anna’s commitment to her chosen calling was serious. She would not leave the Temple area until she had seen the Messiah.
As Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus approached that day, Anna would have noticed that they were not rich, for their offering was turtle doves, which is the sacrifice that was acceptable from the poorest of the people. Turtle doves did not need to be purchased. They were common in the area, and were caught with ease.
Anna saw the family, dedicated to the law of Leviticus, ready to bring the child for dedication.
Perhaps she noticed that the situation was very similar to that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament. The birth of Samuel had been miraculous, and followed a prophecy given. Jesus’ birth had been prophesied, and to be a virgin birth would require a miracle. Both Samuel and Jesus were presented to the Lord at the house of God. So, Samuel with his mother ‘Hannah’ (same as the prophetess’ name here), came before God to begin their earthly ministry.
Anna was a name rarely given to women in the tribe of Asher. Yet, Anna’s father must have admired the wife of Tobit, whose name also was ‘Anna’. Anna’s father, Phanuel, must have admired Tobit, and his desire to return to Israel from Media. Therefore, the story of Tobit, and of the desire to reach Jerusalem, was so impressed upon Anna, that when given opportunity, she was going to stay in Jerusalem, until the Messiah came. She had learned from her childhood to put God and His will above the earthly comforts.
This teaching from Phanuel, of the importance of the coming of the Messiah, of the vital truths of the blessedness of being in Jerusalem where He would soon arrive, made this woman, Anna, to be ready to prophesy, to preach of the coming of the Messiah, and to intercede daily there at the ‘house of prayer’.
There is a great need for intercessors in our age. and when the Lord finds a faithful intercessor, one who sighs and cries for the abominations of the world, and seeks God's mercy on those sinners. He will reward them greatly.
Her ministry expanded, and she began to be more than an intercessor. She began to speak to all who were anxious for a Savior. She became a prophetess in her last days.
"And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none."
We all seek to protect our children. We make them use car seats while in the car, and later as they mature we train them to use seat belts. Play pens are not little prisons for punishment, but protective devices to keep them from harm. Back yard fences serve the same purpose of protection. We make sure they have soft comfortable beds in which to sleep. The doors of the houses are usually locked to keep burglars from entering. We set curfews, and have watchful eyes when it comes to our children. This is because we love them.
It is easily seen what we love, by what we protect. Children, homes, cars, money, etc. are all usually protected by people. It is unlikely that you would ever say, "Hi ! Thief. I live at ... and I will not be home tonight. My door will be unlocked..." No! rather, we lock our doors, have lights that automatically come on, install burglar alarms... etc... all to protect what we love.
Spiritually, we are in a battlefield. We need to protect what we love from the demonic forces that seek to attack and rob us of our friends, relatives, church brothers and sisters, our possessions, etc. We must learn how to protect these loved things.
Anna was an intercessor at the Temple, in the midst of the Roman occupation of the nation. Sin was rampant, few were honoring the Temple as a place of prayer, of obedience to the law. She interceded for those she saw there. She likely prayed for every child brought in obedience to the law in Leviticus, to be dedicated to the Lord. She prayed she would be able to know which one of those children would be the Messiah. Still, even if they were not to be the Messiah, she prayed for them.
I Peter 5:8
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."
How do we protect our loved ones from forces that are unseen, yet powerful? The Lord gave us the answer.
"Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about."
Vineyards were sometimes fenced with a wall of stone, or thorny plants. Sometimes it was a combination of both. Some times, they used mud bricks that were three foot by three foot, and six foot long. On top of these mud bricks were planted thorny bushes. This wall of mud and thorns kept intruders outside. The little foxes could not squeeze through the thorns without doing major damage to their bodies. This hedge is described with the Greek word - "phragmos." This is the word for "a fence, a wall, a hedge.
God is a good husbandman, Who lovingly tends and cares for His vineyard. Jesus said that "I am the vine, and ye are the branches". In this way, He identified us as part of the vineyard with which God is now concerned. Israel had been that vineyard, but at least temporarily, they are "cut off", and the Gentile church has been "grafted in".
"Behold, therefore, the goodness and the severity of God, on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness; otherwise, thou also shalt be cut off... if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in..."
He does all that He can for His vineyard (which we are a part). He is a good husbandman. He lovingly tends and cares for His vineyard. He does all He can to protect His vines.
"He that touches you, touches the apple of His eye."
"No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment Thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord."
"All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."
"He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress."
The enemy that we face is the devil and his forces. They go about "as a roaring lion, seeking ... to devour." (I Peter 5:8) God puts hedges about His saints. These hedges can be gapped or broken down by our sins, and the devil may send in attacking forces to devour and destroy.
Now, before the tribulation, God will keep the hedges up. Barring our sin, He will not allow us to suffer unaided attacks of the devil. Soon, the Lord will call this vineyard (called the "church") home to heaven, while He works to restore Israel back into the vineyard. The wrath that comes to them until they fill the gapped hedge of protection, is not meant for the church. Thus, during that time, the Gentiles that are saved during the tribulation, will not have a hedge of protection about them. The Lord will allow the devil to kill them, and thus they will go to heaven, where God wants them to be anyhow. The purpose of the hedge now, is to allow fruit to be produced by the vineyard. The time of the fruitfulness of the church will be over at the rapture. All of the Gentiles saved after the rapture, God allows to die and go to heaven with the rest of us.
"And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations
Some, who think it will be easy to get saved after the tribulation, had better beware. Even if you survive the war that starts the tribulation, you will die after you finally accept the Lord, and the Lord will not put a hedge of protection to keep you from being beheaded, shot, stabbed, etc.
Sin lowers or makes an opening in the hedge called a "gap". Our loved ones, our children, our mates, our associates, our relatives, our church friends, our neighbors, may lower the hedge and play with sin. They don't realize how dangerous it is. Wicked demonic forces await outside the hedge for opportunities to get through and devour the vineyard of God.
So what can we do to protect those we love? How do we protect our church congregations when gossip, backbiters, critics, spiritual abusers, hypocrites, are at work creating gaps in the hedge about the church?
We are definitely told that we have power over the enemy. Wicked spirits attack Christians, Jews, Jerusalem, church leaders, as much as they can. The spiritual hedges about these are the protection that God wants. Praying a hedge about these ones the devil wants to attack will give protection.
"Resist the devil, and he will flee from you..."
God wants us to keep ourselves, and our loved ones within hedges. This is why God tells us to intercede for our leaders, for our loved ones, for Jerusalem and Israel. Intercession builds up the hedges, and fills the gaps caused by sin in the hedges.
"We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks... Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee."
"Violence shall no more be heard in the land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise."
The devil complained of the hedge. Job was protected by the hedge about him, for he was a great intercessor. The devil did not like it.
"Hast not Thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land."
Anna was an intercessor, and God blessed her ministry with an awareness of the nearness of the Messiah’s birth and arrival at the Temple. God still blesses intercessors with a spiritual awareness of events of the coming a second time of the Messiah, Jesus. Intercession is an important ministry, and well blessed by the Lord.
God is "no respecter of persons." We too, can be intercessors, and have a hedge of protection about us and our loved ones. However, a gap can appear in the hedge, A gap was made in Job's hedge for testing purposes. Gaps can come to our hedges also.
There are three reasons for gaps in the hedges.
a. A test which God is allowing for a time.
b. A sin which put a gap in the hedge.
c. Fruitlessness, which causes God to put a gap in the hedge since the vineyard proved worthless and fruitless.
God desires fruit from His vineyard. He is greatly desirous of fruit, and if it does not come, He will "take away the hedge."
"I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard; I will take away the hedge thereof, and it (the vineyard) shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down."
Sin gaps the hedge, so the enemy, the devourer, can get inside to do the destruction. God has provided the hedge to protect what He loves.
"What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes."
Much sickness, trouble, and suffering is unnecessary. Not all sickness is from sin. Some is a result of a test, as was Job's. But much sickness is a result of the lowering or gapping of the hedge. This unnecessary sickness is caused by sin or fruitlessness in the lives of Christians. Israel sinned and the hedges were gapped.
"Thou has broken down all his hedges."
Our prayer lives do have an effect. We are told that our prayers are not meaningless sound. Our prayers can keep a hedge about us, and about our loved ones.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man, availeth much."
The prayers and intercession of David was still availing much many years after his death. In the years of Jeroboam, when God should have judged Jerusalem for its sins, He withheld judgment for "David's sake." Intercession will have its impact.
I Kings 11:12
"Notwithstanding, in thy days, I will not do it, for David thy Father's sake."
The intercession of Jesus for His disciples in Gethsemane had its effect. The eleven disciples that were left did survive the great trial. Even though they met temporary defeat, they all came back and were victorious after the resurrection.
Stephen interceded for those who were killing him. His intercession put a hedge about Saul of Tarsus, and this hedge protected Saul. Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He became the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, because a deacon named Stephen interceded for him. If the intercessor had not done his loving praying for his stoners and the coat holder, the Lord would have judged Saul with death on the road to Damascus, and not blessed him with mercy. Intercession is vital.
Barnabus is called "the son of consolation." This word "consolation" is the Greek word - "paraklesis", which means "exhortation, comfort, advocate, or intercessor for..." Barnabus was the advocate, or intercessor for John Mark. He was also the intercessor for Paul in Jerusalem.
Moses interceded for Israel and they were not destroyed as the Lord had intended, but were allowed to die of old age in the wilderness. If it were not for the intercession of Moses, the children of Israel's history would have been drastically altered. What is altered in time, because of our intercessions?
Walls of the hedges are constantly being broken down. It is the mission of each Christian to build hedges about ourselves and our loved ones, and to keep the gaps filled with our intercessory prayers. One of the sins which often puts gaps within the hedges is a condemning spirit. To be a condemner tears down hedges.
"Judge (condemn) not, that ye be not judged (condemned)."
"The words of a talebearer are as wounds."
Words are a spiritual attack by a critic. The criticism of another injures the hedge of the one criticized also. That is why, we need to often intercede for those with ministries that keep them in battles that invite criticism. Those who do the criticizing will face loss of their hedge, but their critical words will gap the hedges of the saints whom they criticize. We must pray for pastors, evangelists, prophets, and leaders who are frequently criticized.
When we are the one that is criticized, the way God teaches us to keep our hedge ungapped, is to pray for those who have criticized us. This is difficult, and yet, if undone, will hurt us, more than them.
"Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you..."
Any willful sin will break down a hedge.
"For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins (i.e. no more hedge), but rather a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries."
The willful sin of not interceding for our loved ones, and the church congregation, etc. destroys the hedge they should have had. We need our own hedge, and they need us as intercessors to fill the gaps in their hedges. We had need beware of willfully sinning. Surely, we are saved by grace, but we should not choose to sin, just because salvation is so easy. While we are in the willful sin, the hedge is broken; and the enemy, the devil, will come through the gaps to devour and destroy.
Broken hedges are a crisis. Hedges broken by sin, by failures of our intercessors, by sins against us, and by demonic attack, need constant repair and attention. Sometime the devil tries the "Trojan horse trick." We may welcome some within the hedge, because we do not see the danger within them. The devil comes within most churches that way. He comes within the "tares" that he has sown in the church. These hypocrites, spiritual abusers, and false prophets may seem to have a "form of godliness." They may be respected, hold church offices, and give abundantly in the offerings. The devil uses them to hurt young Christians, and offend any who would protest their abuse. He will use them to start arguments on the choice of brick, the color of the carpet, etc. They will hinder and destroy any revival God tries to give to the church congregation.
All the saints are to be HEDGE BUILDERS. We are to keep the hedges of the church built and strong. When a gap is found, we are to stand in the gap with our intercessory prayers providing the protection.
I Peter 2:5
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
The "spiritual sacrifices" that we are to offer up are the substitutionary intercessory prayers we pray. Just as a priest put a lamb upon the altar for a sinner who came before him, we are to offer up our intercessory prayers for many sinners with whom we come into contact. We need to intercede for one another. We are to put a hedge about each other and help protect the others from the enemy. A church without intercessors, is in constant turmoil. We must constantly, and frequently, pray for God to look at our loved ones as He looks at His Son, Jesus Christ.
God wants intercessors so He does not need to judge. Our prayers build up a hedge about others so God does "not destroy" them for their sins. God seeks hard for people who will assume the job He has given them of intercession.
"And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none."
God planted His vineyard to receive fruit from it. This is His goal. Too many of the vineyards of God are spoiled, devoured, or unproductive. God cannot have productive vineyards if an army of intercessors does not stand forth in these last days to fill the gaps of sin.
"And He began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat (vat), and built a tower (for watchmen as intercessors who warn of danger, and climb down to repair gaps in the hedges)..."
God wants intercessors to climb up into a tower of prayer and watchfulness. We need to watch for sin, and not then criticize, gossip, or attack the sinners. We must intercede for mercy and for the gap of the hedge to be filled. If we do not intercede, the enemy will come to devour the vineyard. God does not want the enemy to win, He wants intercessors to fill the gaps until the sinner repents, and thus He can bless the sinners until they again become a fruitful vineyard of God.
God has plenty of criticizers, and plenty of gossipers. He has too few intercessors, and too few who want to stand in the gap of another's hedge. There are too few of God's people who will warn of sin, and then intercede when others do not heed the warnings.
"O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedges for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord."
Thus, the prophets were not protecting the people of God as they should. You are a prophet and priest of God in these last days. You are to fill gaps in the hedges of God's people. You are to stand against sin, but love the ones who are fallen into sin. You are to intercede for the sinner. You are to be the watchmen in the tower to warn of the coming enemy, and if a gap is seen in the hedge, it is your mission to fill that gap with your intercessory prayers.
The Christmas season sees many involved in giving. There are many involved in music and worship. There are those who involve themselves in the ministry of decoration, of cooking and serving. Yet, the ministry of intercession needs to be shown. Having waited over 80 years, Anna was an intercessor of great import at this time. In our day, we need to be more willing to recognize the ministry of intercession.