In the story “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” the townspeople hired the piper to get rid of an infestation of rats. With his magic music, he led the rats out of town and drowned them in the river. But when he returned for payment, the mayor and town council tried to get rid of him. So once more the piper played his tune. This time every child in Hamelin followed him out of the town gates, never to be seen again.
This folk tale warns of the consequences of not keeping promises. Festivals were a common time for people to keep vows they had made, which is why this material is located here in Numbers. Today’s reading describes one more holiday, the Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths) (29:12–38). The Festival of Trumpets led into the Day of Atonement, which led into this one.
The principle of promise keeping is based on understanding who God is. To take a vow before the Lord, who perfectly keeps all His promises, is an absolute commitment to doing what we say. Furthermore, it should be done not slowly or grudgingly, but willingly and eagerly (Deut. 23:21–23). The option of taking an oath was open to both men and women.
Such a commitment was not to be made lightly. Making a vow was a free choice, but it had serious obligations (see Eccl. 5:1–7). Not to keep a promise was a sin, but it was not a sin not to make one in the first place. Speaking many words and not meaning them is the mark of a fool; the wise don’t let their mouths lead them into sin. “Let your words be few,” Ecclesiastes thus advises, pointing out that listening and attentiveness are the path to fearing the Lord.