But if we believed that God is speaking to us through parents, pastors, and ministers of the Word, we should feel our hearts inflamed by a wonderful joy. For we should glory as follows, saying: “I am baptized.” By whom? Was it not by a pastor? By no means, but by the Holy Spirit. I have been absolved by the Holy Spirit, by God Himself. Why, then, should I be afraid? Before whom should I be alarmed? Why should I be troubled about my sin? Accordingly, in comparison with the fathers, we are hardly little children, and still on the breast. For they saw many scandals of idolatry among the neighboring nations, and yet they firmly embraced the Word of God. We have numberless examples of faith, both from our own and former ages, set before our eyes, and still we do not believe.
First, then, it is very necessary to observe God’s words carefully when He is speaking, and then the faith of the believers. Then you will see true miracles in the stories of the saints, who by faith in the Word overcame all evils of the world and the devils. This victory they obtained not by means of their own wisdom, which was consumed, according to the well-known statement in Ps. 107:27, but because the Word came to comfort them, and by means of faith by which they clung to the Word, for “our faith is the victory which overcomes the world” (cf. 1 John 5:4). God causes us to triumph and conquer through His Word, by which He raises us up and confirms us. This, therefore, is a glorious consolation which God shows to Jacob. For it is just as if He were saying: “I have death and life and all times in My hand. Only believe, and you will be saved!”
But He adds the command about raising an altar, that is, about instituting worship, and there this rule is to be noted, that without the Holy Spirit no method or means of worshiping God is to be taken up. Jacob, for example, does not on the basis of his own judgment fabricate the idea that the house of God is in this place, but he has it from revelation. When he slept here formerly and saw the angels of God ascending and descending, he added: “This is none other than the house of God” (cf. Gen. 28:17). Altars are not to be raised and acts of worship are not to be invented by one’s own rashness, but respect must be paid to the commandment of God. In later times Jeroboam erected a calf in Bethel that the people might sacrifice and worship there. In order to obscure the commandment of God about building the temple at Jerusalem, which Solomon had had, he heaped high praise on this commandment given to the patriarch Jacob about raising an altar and instituting worship in Bethel. For this, he contended, was much more ancient and therefore more distinguished than that old commandment about building the temple at Jerusalem.
Before the present time also, although God was to be sought and recognized in His Word and sacraments, the pope, casting these aside, invented relics and memorials of the saints, and by these he imposed on the wretched people the idea that they should believe that the worship of God was bound to these matters. Such a stage of madness was reached that in some places men displayed the shoes of Joseph, the milk of the Virgin Mary, and the breeches of St. Francis as relics. To these were added the fictitious and prodigious works of the saints like Francis, Dominic, and others, whose holiness they estimated by their life and works. For men alienated from the truth have to be deceived and infatuated in this way. But if you carefully unfold Holy Scripture, you will see that nothing pleases God without the Word.
Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37 p 225-226