Jacques Isaac Gabizon, Director
Pastor, Leader of Beth Ariel Messianic Congregation, Montreal, Quebec
Shalom! First I'd like to say that it is a real blessing to be here addressing you as a worker for Ariel Ministries. What attracts many of us to this organization is its uncompromising position in the Word of God.
I was born in Casablanca, Morocco. I came from an orthodox family, where my grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were all rabbis. One of my fondest memories of Morocco was on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, the Sabbath, at my grandfather's synagogue. I remember how my friends looked up to me for being the grandson of the rabbi of our synagogue. And I admit that I felt a certain sense of holiness and a wonderful sense of belonging to the rich traditions of Sephardic Judaism.
But soon after the Six-Day war in Israel, life as a Jew in a Moslem country became somewhat straining, even though the Jews in Morocco were treated much better than other Jews living in other Muslim countries. So in 1968, my family considered the option of moving either to Israel, France or Canada. Since we already had some close family in Montreal, and because the city is a French speaking one, the choice was made. When I arrived, I was in for a great culture shock. My parents decided it would be best for me to enter English school. So at the age of 13, one day after having arrived in Montreal, I was put into an English school without knowing one word of this language. It took me 3 months before I was able to hold any kind of a decent conversation in English.
By the time I was in college I began developing a deep interest in religion, especially prophecies. It was a very “in” thing to think about at that time. Some of my friends were already absorbed with the prophecies of Nostradamus. Others, I remember, spent their time with astrological charts. Somehow I had refused to even consider these esoteric sciences, my argument being this: “Why should I go somewhere else before first looking in my own backyard, in my own religion”. I knew of some Jewish prophets; I remembered the name of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and I knew that they had written something in the Tanach. Somehow, there was a burning desire to go and find out what they had written. As I look back now I can recognize the hand of the Holy Spirit starting to work in my life.
I went to my Father and asked him if he knew anything about the prophets. He did not, but he handed me some books that belonged to my grandfather. I read many passages but they were only traditional prayer books.
Within just a few days after having asked my father for those books on the prophets, some evangelists had come to my college and had set up a book table. Out of curiosity, I approached the table, and picked up a book. I wanted to read the summary on the back cover, and this is was it said: “What the Old Testament Hebrew Prophets prophecy about our time.” That was a direct answer to the question I had! It was like a head on collision. I am by nature very skeptical, but I knew that there was something supernatural about that moment as I read the back cover. I really felt that God was looking, not only looking at me holding the book, but I felt He was looking in the depth of my soul; I felt disarmed, powerless and exposed. Perhaps I wanted to hide because it was not expected. I even looked behind me at who was there; so strongly had I felt a presence with me.
So I wanted to buy that book but I was not sure I had enough money. My family was pretty poor in those days. But here again, putting my hand in my pocket I found the exact amount needed to buy this book, plus 10 cents for a return bus fare. By that time I managed to pay for the book, I must have had some kind of physical reaction, because the lady on the other side of the table looked at me in a very strange way. God bless her, I still can remember her face. The book which I purchased was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. It was in French. So like Jeremiah, I ate that book.
One thing that surprised me about this book was the way in which the name of Jesus was mentioned; how the author put Him on such a pedestal. As a Jew it was difficult to see anyone revering a man whom we Jews understood to be an enemy. I resolved the problem by concluding that since Hal Lindsay was a Christian, it is only natural for a Christian to love Christ. But as a Jew what did Jesus have to do with any Old Testament prophecies?
I can admit to you that at that time, I had such an aversion for the name of Jesus. I could not even read His name. When I would spot, with the corner of my eyes, where the name of Jesus was written, I would carefully jump over it and avoid reading it. Let me tell you that today, for me, the name of Jesus is the name that is above all names.
A couple of weeks later I met a Baptist minister, Jim Browning. I went to sit next to him and the first question I asked him was “Who is Jesus?” Knowing I was Jewish, he tried to show me Jesus in the Old Testament. He had told me that Jesus was the Angel of the Lord who came to earth to die for our sins. The problem was that I did not know anything about the Angel of the Lord, so I understood that he said that Jesus was an angel who came down to die for our sins. All is well, I thought, since this was not at all a threatening situation for a Jew; angels aren't so dangerous a deal... but why so much fuss about this one? So I called Jim back and asked him more about this angel. After many other long conversations he explained to me that Yeshua was actually God in the flesh. That was one truth which I had the most difficulty with. That is, until one day when I read this verse which really helped me to see that Jesus must be Jehovah Himself.
Isaiah 43: 11 where Jehovah says: “I, even I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior.”
There were two possible conclusions to draw from this verse: a) That Jesus is not the Savior and not the Messiah. b) That Jesus is not only the Messiah but that He is Jehovah Himself.
I thanked God many times for this verse. I realized that I needed to understand that Yeshua was Lord in order to appreciate all His works and words. He could not be anything less than Jehovah Himself. All other doctrines, such as the doctrine of grace, doctrine of substitution, doctrine of redemption etc., take on a new and fuller meaning once this wonderful doctrine of the deity of Christ is grasped and believed. One other passage that brought me to clearly see the Messiah is Isaiah 53. When I first read it, I thought that this French Bible had surely been falsified, so clear did this passage speak of Yeshua. When I first read Isaiah 53, I went to show it to my parents and I asked them if they knew anything about it. They said they did not. But I am thankful because my father confessed Yeshua 3 months before the Lord took him 10 years ago.
My encounter with Jim, the Baptist minister lasted a couple of months. Then, not long after, I met another individual who had a great impact in my life: My wife Sharon. When I first met Sharon she was not a believer, and in my zeal, one of the first things I told her, was that if she did not believe in Jesus Christ she will go to hell. So she went to tell her mother. And her mom did what any Jewish traditional mother would do. She told Sharon to let this guy go, that he was a nut. And of course, what is the reaction of an independent young lady when a mother says one thing? So, a year and a half later Sharon and I were married.
The Bible clearly teaches that a believer should not marry a non-believer. At that time, young in my faith I was unaware of this command. I address this issue, especially for the young people reading this testimony. God says through the prophet Amos (3: 3) that “Two cannot walk unless they agree.” However, God was very gracious with us in that He brought Sharon to a saving knowledge of Himself. However, you all must have heard the expression, “Jewish time.” It took Sharon some 8 years after our marriage before she came to believe in Yeshua.
During that time, I was growing in the faith through reading. I remember going to the Christian book store and one after the other, I would always be buying books which would answer some questions that I had from the previous book I was reading. The Holy Spirit was very gracious in keeping my faith strong. During those 8 years I did not step into a church and my contact with other believers was scanty, to say the least. I mention that just to show how God preserves His own, and how He will never forsake them. In John 10:28 (my daughter Eva's favorite verse) Jesus says: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” This extreme isolation is not something to try. This was an extraordinary situation. The Scriptures say that each one of us constitutes a part of the body of Yeshua and we are in that body to encourage, exhort, and support each other in love.
Some time after my first two sons, Jonathan and Ilan were born, Sharon would often ask me if I was planning to teach them about Jesus. So after a while, in order for her to stop from asking that question, I told her that I was not going to teach them about Jesus but that she was the one who was going to. I did not know what I was really saying, but it worked both ways: Not only did she not ask me again, but God used her to bring the Messiah to our children.
I remember very clearly those weeks and months preceding her coming to faith. Things began to change as the Holy Spirit began to move. I noticed that Sharon was starting to take a peek at my books. I would sometimes purposely place a book at a certain angle and come back after work and see it at the same place but at a different angle. I began noticing a certain change in her attitude towards Yeshua. At times she would even defend Him.
In my excitement I wanted to know if she really believed. So one day I tried something. Some kind of reverse psychology I told her that I had enough, and that the presence of my books in our house was detrimental to our relationship and that, after supper I was going to throw out all my books. There was silence. Then she said to me, “After all the time and money you are going to throw them out?” That was in a way a confession; but somehow I was like Gideon and needed more proof.
So I tried something else. At that time, and even now, one of my favorite doctrines is the rapture, the blessed hope. Sharon knew all about it. I had even told her that if one day I was not found — to look in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. So one day after supper, I hid in the cupboard, behind some winter coats. She began calling for me, and began searching the house, thinking I was playing hide-and-seek. Her calls and search were futile and I began to sense a tinge of panic in her voice. Years later she told me that she thought I had been raptured, and she spent a good few minutes pondering life as one of the 144,000.
At one point she agreed to come and listen to a Hebrew-Christian who was to speak at a local church. At the time we did not know who the speaker was, but it was none other than Arnold Fruchtenbaum. But I remember being very impressed with his knowledge of the Bible, but it would be many more years before we were to meet again.
So, Sharon finally came to faith and in the course of time our families were told that she too was a believer; they panicked, especially for our children, and the testing began.
They brought us before many rabbis as well as anti-missionaries. In all we had been confronted by 11 rabbis and anti-missionary many times over. I can tell you now that during that time Sharon and I not only grew in love towards each other but our faith grew tremendously. We were forced to study in order to answer the attacks. We were forced to pray very hard - and you know what Jesus promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and that is very true. I had never felt His very presence so much as at those difficult times.
At one point, we were literally forced to move when an anti-missionary told our landlord to put the number 666 next to our entrance door and on the garage door. That created a very unhealthy place to live especially for our children. When our eldest son Jonathan, at that time being 8 years old, came home and saw the 666 he asked if we had changed our address. We went to look for a house and bought one within 48 hours.
One of the most remarkable encounters I had was when I was introduced to a prominent Moroccan rabbi of Montreal. We sat down in his office, and after I had told him about Isaiah 53 — he told me that this passage does not at all refer to the Messiah. So I told him that in the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 98b, one rabbi applied Isaiah 53 to the Messiah. So he went to get his Talmud, read the passage in Sanhedrin and looked somewhat surprised. So I asked him if it was at least “Jewish” to admit that the Messiah was to die for our sins, since at least one rabbi had seen it that way. He responded by telling me that this was only one interpretation and that we (referring to our Moroccan community) adhere mainly to the interpretations of Maimonides and Rashi. So I asked him if he considered Maimonides to be a prophet. He said yes, most definitely. I asked him if he was aware of a certain prophecy that Maimonides had made; that Maimonides had actually given a specific date as to when the Messiah would come. I quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 18:21-22, citing that no true prophet of God could make a mistake. I remember he got angry and knocked the table. He asked me if I had proof of my accusation. I said that I will bring him his proof. We departed on that note.
That same day I went to the Jewish Public Library in Montreal. And even though it is an English language library, I found the book I needed, written in French. Thank God because the rabbi did not know how to speak English. This was a published letter from Maimonides to Rabbi Alfujame in Yemen. In the letter, Maimonides deducted from various dates that the Messiah was to come in the year 1210 AD. As a consequence to this false dating, many Jews went to Israel to find the Messiah, but instead were slaughtered by the Moslems.
I brought him the letter, and he kept it for 2 weeks. I then went to speak with him to ask what his conclusions were. He said that there was a mystery that he could not explain. In his eyes, there was not even a hint of doubt about his great prophet Maimonides. This incident taught me that no matter how much reason, logic or proof you may use to witness, this battle is a spiritual one. I am though, very thankful that God is faithful and has allowed this Rabbi the opportunity to hear His words.
My family still receives hate letters from anti-missionaries. But Jesus says that when these things happen “rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Today we are excited to serve God, as parents to see our children grow and learn more about Yeshua, and for our burden to reach and disciple those who thirst for a fuller understanding of God. Sharon and I covet your prayers that we may be effective servants, through our lives and through Ariel Ministries for the glory of God.
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