The Liahona was a compass or director "prepared . . . by the hand of the Lord" for the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi as he and his family traveled in the wilderness (2 Ne. 5:12). It was shown to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses in 1829 along with the Book of Mormon plates (D&C 17:1). The Liahona was also understood as a symbol for the words of Christ: "For just as surely as this [Liahona] did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us . . . into a far better land of promise" (Alma 37:45).
Described as a ball made of fine brass and "of curious workmanship," it had two spindles, one pointing the direction Lehi's family should travel (1 Ne. 16:10). The term "Liahona" appears only once in the Book of Mormon (Alma 37:38). It was usually referred to as "the ball" (1 Ne. 16:16, 26—27; etc.), "compass" (1 Ne. 18:12; Alma 37:43—44; etc.), or "director" (Mosiah 1:16; cf. D&C 17:1).
Lehi found the Liahona, provided by the Lord (Alma 37:38), outside of his tent door while camping in the wilderness after leaving Jerusalem (1 Ne. 16:10). As his party traveled through the Arabian desert and across the ocean to the promised land, one of the spindles pointed the direction to travel. Moreover, the Liahona was a medium through which God communicated with Lehi's family. Written messages occasionally appeared on it, giving them specific directions (1 Ne. 16:26—29).
The instrument worked according to the faith and obedience of Lehi's family. When they lacked faith or disobeyed, it ceased to function. Passed down from generation to generation along with the sacred records, it was stored with the gold plates.
Liahona is the title of an international Spanish-language magazine published by the Church.
Nibley, Hugh W. Since Cumorah. 2nd ed. CWHN 7:251—63. Salt Lake City, 1988.
Douglas Kent Ludlow