12. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign: verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.
[Why doth this generation seek after a sign?] Instead of a comment, take a story: "On that day, R. Eliezer answered to all the questions in the whole world, but they hearkened not to him. He said therefore to them, 'If the tradition be according to what I say, let this siliqua [a kind of tree] bear witness.' The siliqua was rooted up, and removed a hundred cubits from its place: there are some who say four hundred. They say to him, 'A proof is not to be fetched from a siliqua.' He saith to them again, 'If the tradition be with me, let the rivers of waters testify': the rivers of waters are turned backward. They say to him, 'A proof is not to be fetched from the rivers of waters.' He said to them again, 'If the tradition be with me, let the walls of the school testify': the walls bowed, as if they were falling. R. Josua chid them, saying, 'If there be a controversy between the disciples of the wise men about tradition, what is that to you?' Therefore the walls fell not in honour of R. Josua. Yet they stood not upright again in honour of R. Eliezer. He said to them, moreover, 'If the tradition be with me, let the heavens bear witness.' The Bath Kol went forth and said, 'Why do ye contend with R. Eliezer, with whom the tradition always is?' R. Jonah rose up upon his feet, and said, 'It is not in heaven' (Deut 30:12). What do these words, 'It is not in heaven,' mean? R. Jeremiah saith, When the law is given from mount Sinai, we do not care for the Bath Kol."
Shall we laugh at the fable, or shall we suspect some truth in the story? For my part, when I recollect with myself, how addicted to and skillful that nation was in art-magic; which is abundantly asserted not only by the Talmudists, but by the Holy Scriptures; I am ready to give some credit to this story, and many others of the same nature: namely, that the thing was really acted by the art and help of the devil by those ensign-bearers and captains of errors, the more to establish their honour and tradition.
Therefore, from the story, be it true or false, we observe these two things:--
I. How tenacious the Jews were of their traditions, and how unmovable in them even beyond the evidence of miracles. That Eliezer was of great fame among them, but he was a follower of Shammai. Hence he is called once and again the Shammean. When, therefore, he taught something against the school of Hillel, although he did miracles (as they themselves relate), they gave not credit to him, nay, they derided him. The same was their practice, the same was their mind, against the miracles of Christ. And to this may these words of our Saviour tend, "Why does this generation seek a sign?" a generation, which is not only altogether unworthy of miracles, but also which is sworn to retain their traditions and doctrines, although infinite miracles be done to the contrary.
II. You see how the last testimony of the miracles of this conjuror is fetched from heaven: "For the Bath Kol went forth," &c. Which the followers of Hillel nevertheless received not: and therein not justly indeed; when they feign such a voice to have come to themselves from heaven, as a definitive oracle for the authority of the school of Hillel, not to be gainsaid: concerning which the Talmudists speak very frequently, and very boastingly.
After the same manner they require a sign from heaven of our Saviour; not content with those infinite miracles that he had done, the healing of disease, the casting out devils, the multiplying of loaves, &c. They would also have somewhat from heaven, either after the example of Moses fetching manna from thence; or of Elias fetching down fire; or of Joshua staying the sun; or of Isaiah bringing it backwards.