Topic Study: Liahona

(November 2002 IN Entry: Liahona.  Given as a talk at the baptism of Al Robles.)

Continued From

Patriarchal Blessings [Forward Reference]

Scriptures, Value of [Forward Reference]

Holy Ghost, Gift of [Forward Reference]


The Liahona is a type or example of the many guides our Heavenly Father provides to guide us to the “promised land.”

I             Types of Guides

The Lord has given us many guides in this life.  Each of these guides assists us through life, showing us the way we should travel in this “wilderness.”

What specifically are some of these guides?  Here are a few:

  1. The Gift of the Holy Ghost
  2. The scriptures
  3. The voice and warnings of prophets and our parents
  4. Patriarchal blessings
  5. Even Church Magazines, one of which (the Spanish Version), is called the Liahona

Each of these is a very valuable, and very precise, tool.  Every tool comes with an instruction manual.  What instruction manual has the Lord provided?  I believe we can view the story of the tool that was given to Lehi as a great example in how we should handle these precious guiding tools.

II            Shown to, Given To, and Taken With Us

Each of these guides is given to or bestowed upon us.  Just think how surprised Lehi was that morning?

10 And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass.  And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

1 Ne. 16:10

I suspect that some of us have been as surprised by the arrival of these guides, our introduction to the missionaries and subsequent confirmation.  How about when you received your patriarchal blessing, and realized how great a help it might be.  Or how about the feelings when we hear a message in Sacrament meeting that speaks directly to what we should do.  It is as if these guides fall right out of the sky.

And the similarities don’t end there.  Nephi understood the importance of carrying these guides with us, particularly when we go into the “wilderness”.  (2 Ne. 5:12 Nephi (1) takes compass with him.)  We should be worthy to “always have his Spirit to be with” us.  (D&C 20:77)

King Benjamin charged his son to take strict care of them, to protect them, and not to share them with those who would not understand or appreciate them (Mosiah 1:16 Benjamin gives ball to Mosiah (2).)

The Three witnesses were instructed that without faith they would not be able to obtain use or sight of it. (D&C 17:1 Three Witnesses to see directors given to Lehi (1) in wilderness.)

III           How They Work

So how do these guides work?  Alma Chapter 37 gives us good insight to that.

38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.

These guides point us in the direction we should go in life.  It comes from the Lord.

39 And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship….

There is nothing that can imitate the workings of these guides.  No one is able to speak to our hearts or give us the feelings of, the peace of the Holy Ghost.  No one can create a document that better describes our life than our patriarchal blessings.  They are of curious workmanship.  They must be handled with care.  If we do not treat them as a gift, they will not work properly for us.

…And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.

They are guides to us in our mortal wilderness, while we travel away from our Heavenly Father.

40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done….

We must have faith in the working of the guide, or it will not work

…Therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.

Alma 37:38 – 40

They are miraculous when they work.

IV          Lack of Faith

But do we have enough faith to always trust in these great guides?  Alma noted that Lehi and his family didn’t always.

41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works.  They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;

42 Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.

Alma 37:38 – 42

We are literally dammed, stopped in our progress when we ignore these guides.  If we have faith, the Lord leads us along, he “feeds us in green pastures.”

16 And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.

1 Ne. 16:16

You remember that Nephi broke his bow as they traveled in the wilderness.  When we have trails, do we forget the guides we have been given?  Do we give up hope, and faith?  Lehi, when he couldn’t feed his young children, even murmured.  But when Lehi listened, and humbled himself, the guidance returned.

25 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father; and he was truly chastened because of his murmuring against the Lord, insomuch that he was brought down into the depths of sorrow.

These guides help us repent, even when that brings us some sorrow.

But that is not all.  These guides, particularly the written guides, change at times, according to our needs and circumstances.

26 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.

27 And it came to pass that when my father beheld the things which were written upon the ball, he did fear and tremble exceedingly, and also my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and our wives.

28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.  And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.

1 Ne. 16:25 – 29

Have you ever read a scripture that you have read a thousand times before, and understood a completely new meaning?  Has your patriarchal blessing taken on a different meaning because of some recent experience?  Has that treasured message from the prophet that you have read numerous times over the year suddenly changed and had a completely new meaning.  “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”

V           Opposition

But the story of Nephi breaking his bow isn’t the last story in the book of first Nephi about the Liahona.  It is mentioned again as they traveled on the sea.  You’ll remember that Laman and Lemuel forgot the Lord, and began to “speak with much rudeness” (1 Ne. 18:9).  Nephi attempted to correct them, but they became angry (1 Ne. 18:10).  They bound Nephi.  What was the result?

12 And it came to pass that after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work.

13 Wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me.

1 Ne. 18:9 – 13

Why did the Lord allow this to happen?  Nephi tells us in verse 11.

…The Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.

1 Ne. 18:11

Are there times when others bind us, and keep us from using those guides in their behalf?  Do our children bind us as we attempt to council them from the scriptures?  Does a coworker tell us that they don’t believe the same way we do, even though they are struggling with problems the gospel would solve?

More importantly, are there times when we bind another from using a guide in their behalf?  Do we not have faith in, and pray for the prophet to be able to council us in wisdom?  Do we choose only that council that fits neatly with our current practices?  Elder Faust said:

I have heard some say, “Well, I can believe all of the revelations but one.” It is hard to understand this logic. If one believes that revelations come from a divine source, how can one pick and choose? Acceptance of the gospel should be complete and absolute, with full heart and soul. (James E. Faust, “The Abundant Life,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 9)

Do we have to be “driven” to use these guides, or to listen to those who can, like Laman and Lemuel?

20 And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me.

21 And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it.  And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.

22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.

23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.

1 Ne. 18:20 – 23

The purpose of these guides, the Holy Ghost, the scriptures, prophets and patriarchs, their only purpose is to guide us to the ultimate promised land—The land where our Heavenly Father dwells, or Eternal Home.

May we turn to them, and have faith in them, more than just in times of trouble.


In conclusion, let’s return to the explanation of Alma to his son about the Liahona and the guides or “words of Christ.”

43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing?  For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us.  The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.

47 And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live.  Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober.  My son, farewell.

Alma 37:43 – 47

Related Hymns

Guide Me to Thee (101), Text and Music: Orson Pratt Huish

Verse 1

Jesus, my Savior true,
Guide me to thee.
Help me thy will to do.
Guide me to thee.
E’en in the darkest night,
As in the morning bright,
Be thou my beacon light.
Guide me to thee.

Verse 2

Through this dark world of strife,
Guide me to thee.
Teach me a better life.
Guide me to thee.
Let thy redeeming pow’r
Be with me ev’ry hour.
Be thou my safety tow’r.
Guide me to thee.

Verse 3

When strife and sin arise,
Guide me to thee.
When tears bedim my eyes,
Guide me to thee.
When hopes are crushed and dead,
When earthly joys are fled,
Thy glory round me shed.
Guide me to thee.

Verse 4

When silent death draws near,
Guide me to thee.
Calm thou my trembling fear.
Guide me to thee.
Let me thy mercy prove.
Let thy enduring love
Guide me to heav’n above.
Guide me to thee.

The Iron Rod (274)  Text: Joseph L. Townsend, Music: William Clayson

Verse 1

To Nephi, seer of olden time,
A vision came from God,
Wherein the holy word sublime
Was shown an iron rod.


Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
Tis strong, and bright, and true.
The iron rod is the word of God;
‘Twill safely guide us through.

Verse 2

While on our journey here below,
Beneath temptation’s pow’r,
Through mists of darkness we must go,
In peril ev’ry hour.

Verse 3

And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh,
Our pathway clouded o’er,
Upon the rod we can rely,
And heaven’s aid implore.

Verse 4

And hand o’er hand, the rod along,
Through each succeeding day,
With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
We’ll still pursue our way.

Verse 5

Afar we see the golden rest
To which the rod will guide,
Where, with the angels bright and blest,
Forever we’ll abide

(Initial writing finished November 2002, Updated January 2003)

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