Gilldae (‘a pupil’) – like to a leech (gil): it is its custom to suck: it is also the custom of the gilldae to suck instruction from his tutor’s tongue...
- Cormac, Glossary, Irish, 10th century
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
- Hebrews 5.12-14
Cormac was a curious person, both a bishop and a king. But he was also a grammarian, and he compiled his Glossary to preserve Gaelic words which were beginning to fall into disuse, as the world of Irish Christianity was becoming Latinized by the Roman Church.
Reflecting back from his 10th century existence to the Celtic Revival, by then in eclipse for more than a century, he may have hoped to rekindle some of its vibrancy by reminding his readers of the vanishing glories of their native tongue.
Of all the words Cormac, that dutiful grammarian, preserved from the ancient Gaelic, I think this has to be my favorite. I’m glad he was afraid that gilldae was going out of use and needed to be included in his list.
This is a powerful image: the student as one who sucks instruction from his mentor like a leech sucks life-blood from its host. A leech clings to its host; a student clings to his teacher or the subject of his study, especially the Word of God. A leech is nurtured for its labors, and has life-blood to share with its offspring; a student grows in grace, and gains grace to spend on others.
I doubt many of us think of ourselves as leeches on the Lord, clinging to Him and drawing from Him all the life He can give. Perhaps we don’t even think of ourselves as feeding on the banquet of His Word, which He daily prepares for our needs. David, Jeremiah, Job, Paul, Peter, and John all thought about the Word as the Source of food for their souls. By feeding their souls, they knew, the word would prepare their bodies to serve the Lord with words and deeds.
The Word nurtures our souls, but it also gives true shape to our lives. Feed on the Word, and your soul and body will grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). Fail to cling to the Word, and your spirit will shrivel, and your body will have no strength for anything other than itself.
If we really believed that feeding on the Word is critical to our physical wellbeing, not just our spiritual, I suspect we might attach ourselves to it more firmly, to feed on it longer.
After all, which of us doesn’t get a little cranky if we miss a meal?
But miss time feeding on God’s Word? Most of us hardly notice.
Are we determined to stay babes all our lives, lapping at a little milk poured out from behind the pulpit once a week? Pastors must feed us on the Word of God, it’s true. But nothing can substitute for your own, leech-like clinging to and feeding from the Word to make you fit for the Kingdom in soul and body.
The richest banquet of spiritual food is ready for your consumption, morning by morning, day by day. “Your words were found, and I ate them,” Jeremiah declared. “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food,” said beleaguered Job.
Get past the milk diet, and begin clinging to the real divine cuisine by which we may grow strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. What are you waiting for?
1. As you go the Word of God, what do you expect? What are you seeking?
2. How can you make better use of your time in the Word, so that you truly feed on it daily?
Psalm 119.171-176 (Regent Square: Angels from the Realms of Glory)
With our lips we praise You, Jesus,
for You teach us, full and free.
Now Your Word will ever please us;
Your commandments true shall be.
Let Your hand come forth to ease us;
we Your Word choose gratefully!
For Your saving grace we plead, Lord,
and Your Law is our delight.
We to live and praise You need, Lord,
all Your help by day and night.
Straying sheep, we do not heed, Lord;
Come and seek us by Your might!
Feed me, Lord! Make me a true gilldae of Your Word, so that each day I…
Here’s a way to strengthen your daily intake of the Word.
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Cormac, p. 83.