A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon/Liahona
LIAHONA, THE. While Lehi and his little colony were encamped near the river Laman, the voice of the Lord came unto him, and commanded him to resume his journey on the morrow. When Lehi stepped out of his tent door the next morning, he was much surprised to behold lying upon the ground close by, a round ball of curious workmanship. It appeared as though it was made of fine brass, and within it were two spindles; one of which pointed the way which Lehi and his party should travel as they journeyed through the wilderness.
God had prepared this strange instrument or guide for them. In the days of Moses, when He led the children of Israel out of Egypt, a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night moved in front of them. This the Hebrews followed. But to Lehi He gave this Liahona, or compass, as the ball was called, and it pointed the way they should travel. It had one strange peculiarity, which was that it worked according to their faith and diligence. When they kept God's law it showed them much more clearly the way they should go than when they were careless or rebellious. Some people have confused this ball, because it is called a compass, with the mariner's compass, that sailors use at sea to direct the course of their ships. But there is a great difference between the two. The Liahona pointed the way that Lehi's company should travel, while the needle in the mariner's compass points to the north. The one showed the way Lehi should go, the other informs the traveler which way he is going. The one was specially prepared by the Lord for Lehi and his companions, and was used through faith only; the other can be used by all men, whether believers in the true God, pagans or infidels. At times, also, writing would miraculously appear on the Liahona, giving directions or reproving for sin, as the company most needed.