The Proverbs woman is often held up as THE example of a worthy woman. Indeed, the NASB calls her that as it launches into the description from verse 10-31:
This woman is tireless in her pursuit of the good of her husband and the well-being of her family. The description of her activities seems almost unattainable, but for the fact that we have the Spirit’s wings to spur wives and moms onward.
But what if you’re not a married woman? Whose example do we follow? The Bible does not feature many single women. Lydia was perhaps single. She ran a business (purple dyeing) and had a large house with servants, but a husband is not mentioned. Maybe she was a widow. But we can’t know for sure. Susannah followed Jesus, she gave out of her own purse, so she had freedom to roam with itinerant Jesus and her own money. A husband is not mentioned, but we can’t be sure. Ruth & Naomi…but Naomi was bitter and Ruth remarried…
A lot of ink is spent on featuring married women, most with children. But where are the singles? There’s the unmarried Mary and Martha, living with their brother Lazarus. We see the two sides of a coin in devoted and spiritual Mary and the tireless busy-ness of hostess Martha. Perhaps combined they would be a good biblical role model.
If single women want to see a biblical role model of a single woman, we do have Anna.
Luke 2:36-38 offers us a brief biography of this woman. Her bio is sandwiched between other glimpses of the nativity story. She doesn’t receive as many verses as the Proverbs 31 wife, just three, but her life was one well worth studying nonetheless.
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She did not leave the temple grounds, serving night and day with fasts and prayers. 38And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak about Him to all those who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
In those verses we learn her father’s name and her tribe (Asher was a ‘lost tribe’). Anna married young and was married for a short time before she became a widow.
Because the Jewish culture emphasized marriage and procreation, and because women were a vulnerable demographic, widows (especially young ones) usually remarried. Anna didn’t. We do not know why. Perhaps her husband had been a man of means and she was financially secure. Perhaps she had loved him so much she felt it would be a betrayal to remarry, it just wasn’t in her heart. We don’t know.
Anna likely married at around age 15. When we pick up her life story she is nearly a hundred. We do know she remained unmarried. So for about 6 decades, she lived in or near the Temple and did not leave it night or day. Some believe that sh was given a small apartment or ‘cell’ to live in inside the Temple. They had some there-
Pulpit Commentary: Which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Probably, in virtue of her reputation as a prophetess, some small chamber in the temple was assigned to her. This seems to have been the case with Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22).
What was she doing all that time? She served in the temple night and day. Anna was prayerful. She was thankful. She was focused on the coming Savior. She “prophesied,” which could mean she foretold future events, but that is less likely than the other meaning of prophesied, which is simply proclaiming the divine message.
Anna’s focus was proclaiming the Savior’s coming. It was the top item in her mind, the focus of her prophesying, it’s what she said and taught and prayed. Using her example, women who are single could focus on His coming, incarnation, and/or return. Think of how much more we New Testament believers know than Anna did! Yet Anna found enough treasure in the scriptures available to her to prophesy constantly.
Did Paul have Anna in mind when he sent this letter to Timothy?
3Honor widows who are widows indeed,… 5 Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day. (1 Timothy 5:3,5).
Widows remarrying is perfectly fine, but some choose to remain in the state of widowhood, and as such, what do they do with their time, since it is not devoted to family? Being single as an unmarried or being single through widowhood “is good”. It is not second class. Anna devoted her time to God’s family. Paul wrote,
But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. (1 Corinthians 7:8).
He also said that undistracted devotion to the Lord is possible and desirable if one is single or a widow.
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. 33But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34and his interests have been divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35Now this I say for your own benefit, not to put a restraint upon you, but [†]to promote propriety and undistracted devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
Anna certainly is an example of a woman who fulfilled Paul’s exhortation. She is also not only an example to the single women, but aged women, as well. A person is never too old to serve the Lord in some way. There really is no retirement from ministry. Ministry service to our Savior may shift as life circumstances change, but not service itself. Romans 12:1 says–
Therefore I exhort you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—living, holy, and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Anna is an example of a single woman in service to the Lord. She is an example of an aged woman in service to the Lord. She also an example of a remnant in service to the Lord. The days just prior to the Lord’s coming were days of apostasy. Real faith was rare. The religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes) were hyper-authoritarian Scripture twisters. True faith was rare to find.
These days we are living in can be called days of apostasy. Not The Great Apostasy prophesied to come, perhaps, but these are days where real shepherds, real faithful, real churches are hard to find. Revelation was written a mere 60 years after Jesus’ ascension, and we read in those days that of the 7 churches of Asia, only 2 received compliments and no criticisms. That’s only 28%. What do we think the percentage of wayward churches would be 2000 years after ascension? It’s been a downward slide, with a few upticks, then more down again, this whole period.
Therefore single women can and should be an Anna-type remnant. Devoting time and energy to service in the Lord. We can have a prayer closet. We can teach the younger as Titus 2 says. We can write letters of encouragement. We can keep a blog. We can cook meals for busy mothers. We can do whatever the Lord presses onto our heart, and do it “night and day”.
As with the Proverbs 31 wife, an Anna-like life may seem unattainable…impossible. But, well, Anna did it. We don’t have to literally live and breathe Jesus, but we kind of do. Let’s just say that with the Proverbs 31 wife, her main orientation of life and all her activities are focused around her family. She had a deep focus and a laser-like goal. The single woman can structure her life around her church family and with a laser-like goal, she can (and should) devote herself to service.
One caution. Martha. We can become SO busy that we overlook Jesus in our midst. We can be about the Father’s business so hard that we lose focus of the Father.
If you are single, think of ways that you can fill more time in your days with acceptable service to Jesus. He is worth it!