I shared this on another LDS forum a couple years ago. I've always been fascinated by the Liahona and what I have learned by studying how it was regarded by Nephi and other prophets who passed it down until Moroni preserved it. I thought I'd share it here as well. I hope you enjoy it.1 Ne. 16: 10, 16, 26-28, 30
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.
16 And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.
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.
30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.1 Ne. 18: 12, 21
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.
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.2 Ne. 5: 12
12 And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass; and also the ball, or compass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written.Mosiah 1: 16
16 And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.Alma 37: 38, 45
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.
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.D&C 17: 1
1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.The Liahona, directly interpreted meant compass, but I don't believe it was a magnetic compass or that it functioned the same way compasses as we know them do, pointing to the north by means of a magnetic needle that aligns itself with the Earth's magnetic field.
"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" (1 Nephi 16:28).
While the Chinese were known to have a type of ladle-and-basin lodestone south-pointing compass as early as around 200 BC and other cultures such as the Olmecs, who are supposed to have used a type of geomagnetic lodestone compass earlier than 1,000 BC, I personally don't believe that the Liahona operated on the same physical laws.
Nephi and his family did not need to know where north was (they were heading in a southward direction along the Red Sea). They only needed to know which way to go; which way the more fertile parts of the wilderness lay, for example or how Nephi was able to go up the mountain. The ball only worked according to their "faith", "diligence" and "heed" which they gave unto the Liahona.
Note in the scriptures that the Liahona had two spindles or pointers and not just one. Why? Compasses as we know them only use one needle at it always points north. But if the Liahona did not function the way our modern compasses work, then one spindle would always point in any random direction. Nephi said that one spindle always pointed the way (but only when they exercised faith and diligence!). Therefore a second pointer would serve as a means to verify the direction of the first. This reminds me of some other scriptures:2 Ne. 29: 8
8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.Remember when Alma goes to preach in the land of Ammonihah?Alma 9: 6
6 And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?Alma 10: 12
12 And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.Alma 10: 26
26 For behold, have I testified against your law? Ye do not understand; ye say that I have spoken against your law; but I have not, but I have spoken in favor of your law, to your condemnation. D&C 6: 28
28 And now, behold, I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
I remember in the mission field how important it was and how much of impact there was when I followed my companion's testimony with my own. It was such an amazing thing to experience!
So if Nephi's company began to exert faith and diligence in the Liahona and the one pointer began to work, it must have been an amazing thing to see the other pointer move to align itself with the first to confirm the direction whithersoever they should go. Really cool stuff!
As for how the ball really looked, aside from the fact that it was a round ball prepared by the Lord, had two pointers, was made of fine brass of curious workmanship, where no man could work such a curious workmanship, how big it might have been or how ornamented, we don't know. We can presume that Lehi described in greater detail what it might have looked like or what the writing (or what language) was that appeared from time to time that caused them to tremble exceedingly.
Here's an interesting article, which contains some information and also speculation about the Liahona:The Design of the Liahona and the Purpose of the Second Spindle
Now for the fun part! I enjoy building things (I built houses for 20 years!) with my hands and have made all kinds of stuff since I was a kid. I decided to build a Liahona of my own using parts from a craft store and an old clock.
Here are a few pictures of the final product:
The pointers are two small clock hands (clock mechanism underneath) which can be spun around via the center shaft, which is attached to a small spindle at the top. By twisting the spindle the hands can move around and point in different directions or be made to point in the same direction. This makes for a great object lesson to teach kids or anyone at Sunday School, Gospel Doctrine Class, Family Home Evening, etc. or just for ornamental purposes.
While this was a fun project I have no illusions that this is what the Liahona looked like, but this is my version based on the patterns of the ball that I used and the materials on hand. Still, it was an enjoyable process and kept me coming back to the scriptures for more spiritual sustenance.