“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44–45)
Sharbel Dakwar had grown up hating the Jews, blaming them for all that was wrong in his life.
So, how does a Jew-hating, Arab Christian come to love the Jewish People?
With the help of a Jew, of course.
His grandparents came from a small village in the north of Israel called Bir’im in the Upper Galilee just three kilometers from the Lebanese border.
While a Christian Arab population had lived in Kfar Bir’im for several hundred years, in the Biblical time of Yeshua (Jesus), it was a Jewish village called Kfar Bir’am.
During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Kfar Bir’im was a strategic defense post against the Lebanese forces.
The Arab Christian community left their homes and possessions, trusting the words of the Israeli soldiers that they would be able to return in two weeks’ time. But they were never to return.
Hurt and dispossessed, they settled in the nearby towns and villages — a displaced people within the state of Israel.
Sharbel and his friends found a way to seek revenge on the unsuspecting but distinctively dressed Orthodox Jews.
Whenever they saw a Jewish boy in their neighborhood, they surrounded him, cut off his sidelocks and prayer tassels, and threw away his kippah.
They wanted him to feel the pain they could not give up in themselves.
Sharbel rejected his mother’s teaching about God and forgiveness, instead nursing his hatred and desire for revenge. But his mother kept praying and invited Sharbel to a Christian conference.
He went only to enjoy the swimming pool and possibility of meeting girls. But, he, instead, ran into the conviction of the Holy Spirit when the speaker on the last day asked how a man could be reconciled to God and not to his fellow man.
Sharbel thought that this man knew his story and was speaking directly to him.
This speaker invited everyone to close their eyes and pray.
The Holy Spirit came upon Sharbel, and he became very troubled by his continued hatred toward the Jews. Though he no longer humiliated them, he could still feel the rage burning deep inside.
He prayed, “God, I know you are a God of love and forgiveness, but I don’t see your love and forgiveness inside me.”
Though he still struggled with hatred, Sharbel became a worship leader in his Arab Christian congregation.
God’s standard of forgiveness was not attainable in his own strength, but the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to set up a divine appointment.
A couple of years later, Sharbel met David Vardian, an American who believed in Yeshua.
David often invited Sharbel into his home, trusting him with everything; he became like an older brother to Sharbel, all the while not knowing that David was Jewish.
David’s mother, a Sephardic Jew from the Greek port city of Thessalonica, lost all of her extended family in the Holocaust, and David’s father died when he was only 11.
With no father in his New Jersey home, he grew up searching for a relationship with God, without knowing where to look.
Years passed and, still, he did not find God.
But he did discover a passion to become the Calvin Klein of his generation. David went to Fashion College in New York, and there he read a book about prayer and someone called Yeshua (Jesus).
David’s own father’s name was Abraham, so the connection intrigued him. As he read, he gradually realized that Yeshua must have been Jewish.
Alone in his room, suddenly the conviction of God came over him for his sinful life, including his high school girlfriend’s two abortions.
He heard a voice, “Who are you to take the power of life and death? I have prepared a virgin woman of God for your wife. Stay pure.”
After seeing his entire life flash before him, he cried tears of repentance and was also set free from taking drugs.
David obeyed God’s instructions and broke up with his girlfriend. He also knew that God was calling him to give up his dream of becoming the next Calvin Klein. But first, he went around his campus telling people that Yeshua is the Messiah.
His mother tried to silence him, fearing he had become schizophrenic, since he was hearing a voice speaking to him.
More tragically, as often happens with new Jewish Believers in Yeshua, Jewish friends helped to convince him that Yeshua was not the Jewish Messiah, but the god of the Christians.
“How could I follow Yeshua and still be Jewish?” he thought.
Gradually, David fell back into his party lifestyle, looking into Orthodox Judaism and New Age. None of it, though, gave him the peace he had during those few months he followed Yeshua.
Years passed by. Still spiritually empty and searching, David set up his dream fashion company.
At the height of his business success, he invited his former roommate into his office to astound him with his vast range of religious and philosophical knowledge.
His friend simply answered, “Yeshua said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
The house of cards that David had built in his mind collapsed; and again, he prayed to receive Yeshua as his Messiah.
Walking back home in the middle of the street, he suddenly felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of warm water over him. The joy of the Lord returned, and David promised, “I will never leave you — I will do whatever you want, I will follow you.”
Though he was now filled with the Holy Spirit, David still needed proof that Yeshua was the Messiah. He found it in the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah chapter 53.
For the first time after reading that chapter, David realized it was all about Yeshua. This was his Messiah, and David understood that he was now a restored and complete, true Jew.
Several years later, David met his wife and together they made Aliyah (immigration to Israel), where he worked in a drug rehabilitation center which intentionally served both Jews and Arabs.
David went with a friend to a gathering of Messianic and Arab Christian congregations in Israel, where he met Sharbel whose life was a mess.
It seemed that God was building their relationship. With the Arab pastor’s blessing, David began to disciple Sharbel, never knowing that Sharbel had a problem with the Jewish people, and Sharbel never knowing that David was Jewish.
Then the day came when David invited Sharbel to his home congregation.
Sharbel entered one door, then another, looked around and saw an Israeli flag, a menorah, and a man wearing a kippah.
Shocked, he fled outside. “Why did you bring me into a Jewish place of worship?” Sharbel asked David, confessing his hatred of the Jews.
David simply answered, “I’m Jewish.”
Sharbel felt a sharp knife stab his soul: “How could I give so much love towards someone who is Jewish?” he wondered.
David continued, “And Yeshua is also Jewish.”
As that reality truly sunk in, Sharbel knelt on the ground by the gate of the congregation’s entrance. The hatred for the Jewish People that had felt like a pillar of fire in his heart left him, and the love of God healed the scorched hole.
“From then on, I stopped looking at all the problems and became part of the solution,” Sharbel said.
Today, says David, “Sharbel is coming into his purpose to reach the Arabic speaking peoples about God’s purposes for Israel and how God is drawing his people back to the knowledge that he is their Messiah. His testimony of unity impacts both Jews and Muslims.”
Sharbel feels privileged to be a bridge between Messianic Jews and Arab Christians, understanding the difficulties of both sides.
As he teaches repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, Sharbel is living one of his favorite life Scriptures: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” (Micah 7:8)
Unfortunately, as he speaks at traditional churches in the Middle East, Sharbel has seen how they are primarily focused on the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) with very little knowledge of the Tanakh (Old Testament).
In some cases, they even think that the New Testament cancels the Old Testament.
“They are missing out on the vast passages of Scripture that the New Testament quotes from and interprets. Yeshua Himself said that He had not come to cancel or remove the Torah [God’s instruction] but to fulfill it,” Sharbel said.
Sharbel explained that Yeshua’s disciples knew that the Messiah establishes His kingdom on earth, but they didn’t understand the prophecies of Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 12 about how Messiah would first have to suffer.
“The death of Yeshua surprised even His disciples because they did not fully understand the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament,” he added.
Our Messianic Prophecy Bible will explain to both Jews as well as Arabs throughout Israel and the world the true nature of the Messiah, His suffering and victory.
It will be translated into Hebrew and Arabic and be used as a tool by evangelists like David and Sharbel to share this truth with Arab and Jewish People around the world.