A philosopher once asked Rabban Gamaliel: Your law says [Deut. iv. 24]: "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, yea, a watchful God"; why is it that he is so watchful with regard to the worshipper and not to the idol? Said Raban Gamaliel: I will answer your question by a metaphor: Suppose a king's son names his dog with the father's name and swears, whenever he does, by the life of this dog; the father, once informed about this, will he get angry at his son or at the dog? Naturally enough, at the son.
Thereupon said the philosopher: You call the idol dog, which is not feasible, since the idol has loftier gifts. You ask which are these? Why, once a conflagration consumed all our city, and the idol temple remained intact. Answered R. Gamaliel: I shall use again a metaphor: A province once revolted against the king; against whom do you suppose he used his weapons, against the living or against the dead? Naturally enough, against the former.
Said the philosopher: You style our gods dogs and dead; well, then, when they really are so worthless why does not God annihilate them altogether? Yea, he would surely do it, was the reply, were they not of objects useful to the preservation of the world, such as are the sun, moon, stars, planets, mountains and valleys, for it reads [Zeph. i. 2, 3]: "I will remove utterly all things from off the face of the earth, saith the Lord. I will remove man and beast; I will remove the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling blocks of the wicked." That is to say: The Lord wonders, shall I do this when the heathens worship man, too? I should have then to destroy the whole universe!
--Tract Abuda Zara, Chapter IV