Hall of Famers come in all shapes and size. With some players, you know their destiny even while they’re still on playing. With 3 Cy Youngs, 3 no hitters, and 2 World Series wins combined with being a club house leader and an incredibly fit 40 year old man, Justin Verlander will get installed in Cooperstown. The only question remaining is when that will be. If Shohei Ohtani, the pitching/offensive phenom, continues at his current pace, Shohei will be a shoe in for Baseball’s wall of heroes. Nolan Ryan and Derek Jeter get in on our their first ballots. Other players come as a surprise. Houston’s Jeff Bagwell had a great career, Rookie of Year, MVP, a World Series appearance, and 449 home runs. I can’t do any of those things. In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Bagwell was one of the top sluggers in an era dominated by top sluggers, but he wasn’t the best of them. He wasn’t even the best of them, who didn’t inject additional power into their veins. Yet, in 2017, on his 7th chance, he got elected to the Hall of Fame. Bagwell meant a lot to me, as an Astros fan, and I rejoiced seeing him elected. Do his numbers really justify his inclusion? Would he be there if other stars hadn’t publicly gotten busted for steroid use? Who can say?

It may be heretical, but I do a similar thought exercise with Biblical figures. If we had the task of electing a first class, a top five, into the Bible Hall of Fame, who gets in? The number one choice jumps out as so obvious that no one needs to debate. Jesus Christ is the literal Greatest of All Time. God among us, the only ever perfect human is the undisputed number one. I have pretty good confidence on numbers two through four, even if the exact order escapes me. Moses, part-er of the Red Sea, giver of the law, Abraham, father of God’s people and establisher of the Covenant, and David, conquering hero, and the king after God’s own heart, drop easily into the next three slots. Sure, each have their own complications, not getting into the promised land, having a kid with their servant, and the lady on the roof incident. They’ve got some loses on the back of their baseball cards to go with the wins, but no one else can be Jesus.

Filling the five slot increases greatly in difficulty. Do we give the nod to some different New Testament guys or gals here, Peter? Mary? John? Paul? George? Ringo? Do we pull in some of the other greats of the Old Testament? Joshua? Josiah? Esther? Ruth? Joseph? For the authors of the Prophets and the New Testament, there’s a clear and surprising answer – Elijah. He gets top billing as the herald of the Lord’s return, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5 NRSV) John the Baptist, in his role as forerunner of Christ, gets compared to Elijah. “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14 NRSV) And, Elijah gets a costarring role in the Transfiguration, an almost literal Hall of Fame for prophets.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ (Matthew 17:1-5 NRSV)

The Biblical authors have spoken. Your fifth entry into the Bible Hall of Fame is the Prophet Elijah!

Going just off his stats, he comes off as an odd inclusion. He did defeat the prophets of Ba’al, going 450 against 1, and even slaughtered them after effectively showing their so-called God to be false (1 Kings 18). He holds a record, unmatched by any one other than God, of having never actually died – merely ascending into Heaven (2 Kings 2). However, his mission as a prophet was to turn Israel back from disaster and get them back to worshipping God alone. His work happens during the divided monarchy. Israel, the one nation, splits into two, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Judah, home to the Temple does a better job of staying true to God. Israel wanders off much quicker, gets conquered much quicker, and never returns to their Godly ways. In encouraging Elijah, God also tells him that his work isn’t going to work out.

Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ (1 Kings 19:15-18 NRSV)

Aram is an enemy nation who will begin harassing Israel from outside, and anointing Jehu creates a rebel leader to attack King Ahab from within creating further instability. God says to Elijah, “Stop trying to save them and start tearing them down.” Elijah may have 7,000 souls on his side, but his work of saving the soul of the nation fails. Our number five all time guy doesn’t succeed at his mission?

No, not exactly. Elijah’s role as prophet was to stand up and speak God’s truth. God called Elijah to remain faithful to the last, to face the overwhelming odds, and to not back down. He did all of that, and while it exhausted him to near the breaking point, he stood, fought, and called out Israel for their worship of Ba’al. He could no more control what the people did with that than anyone else could. They had that pesky free will that we keep talking about. Elijah never racked up the wins of a Moses, Abraham, or David. He didn’t have the missionary success of Paul, or even Daniel and Esther’s abilities to alter the minds of hostile rulers. What he lacks in all of those counts, he makes up for in faithfulness in extremely trying circumstances – being one of only a few thousand faithful people in a fallen nation and the one who had to stand out like a sore thumb to do all the talking.