My EC and I returned home from an extended road-trip yesterday. (That's why I have been M.I.A. - and I am so sorry- not really) As we were flying down the freeway at the precise speed limit, my wife was reading an email and chatting on her iPhone. I was listening to music that was streaming from my phone via bluetooth to the car's sound system. I was also tracking the weather satellite and the trip directions on my phone. The technology that we were utilizing was ridiculously cool, if you stop and think about it.
I brought up the idea of how great it would be if you could go back in time and give the LDS pioneer companies a dozen fully functioning iPhones back in the mid-1800s. They could check the weather, communicate with each other, check directions and look at maps, log their progress. The technology that we use every day would have made a huge difference in their lives.
A few weeks ago we were sitting around the kitchen table after Sunday dinner, discussing the Liahona. For a quick memory refresher, read Nephi's description in 1 Nephi, 16: 10, 16, 28 & 29
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.
And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.
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.
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.
SPECULATION ALERT! This is a warning that the following is just some thoughts about the Liahona, and some ideas that came up at the dinner table discussion. You have been warned. None of us really know very much about the Liahona, and talking about it raises more questions than it does answers.
a) What a cool piece of technology! Remember, this was several hundred years before the Chinese invented the first compass. Dual spindles to show the way? Why two? This would be as amazing to Lehi as an iPhone would be to the pioneers.
b) The spindles only worked according to the faith and diligence of the people using it. I am so glad my technology does not demand that of me. AT&T drops enough of my calls already.
c) I think the most fascinating thing about the Liahona is that it had text fields where writing would appear. Nephi said that it had a written display that was plain to be read, and changed from time to time. Writing? Status updates? Dare we say celestial "tweets"?
d) I wonder if the status updates ever said things like "Untie your brother and knock it off."
e) Nephi and Lehi never refer to it as "The Liahona". They call it the ball or compass. It wasn't until much later that Alma describes it as "Liahona" - not "The Liahona" (See Alma's discussion about Liahona below)
f) I would like to think that Liahona is securely stored in a vault somewhere in SLC, but maybe I've just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark too many times. (I warned you about the speculation)
And one of the big topics of discussion around the table:
g) Where did it come from? Alma suggests that it was too complex for any man to have made it. (Alma 37:39) Nephi and Alma both refer to it as curious workmanship. But someone made it. Here is where we discussed two possibilities:
a) The Lord had somebody make it per his specs, and leave it at Lehi's tent. (This would be a fascinating side story in its own right) Possible? Why not? If the Lord could reveal to Nephi how to build a ship, I imagine he could instruct someone to construct a Liahona. (Honey? What are you working on, and why is it taking so long? I'm not sure dear, but it's really complicated, and I have to get it done and leave it by some guy's tent in the desert before tomorrow morning.)
b) It was made and delivered by heavenly beings/messengers. If Alma is correct, and it wasn't something man could have made, it would have to be heavenly in origin. As we discussed this possibility, I asked my sons if they could think of any other time in scripture or modern time where the Lord has delivered a completed piece of technology to man. We talked about the stones with the brother of Jared, we talked about manna in the wilderness, but we were hard pressed to think of a situation to compare to the finding of the Liahona. Ideas?
It really doesn't matter where the Liahona came from, or where it went. It doesn't even matter how it worked. It does matter that it DID work. Most importantly, it got Lehi and his family where they needed to go, and left us with an enduring metaphor to teach important gospel principles.
Rather than expound on what lessons of the Liahona are to me, I figure I will let Alma do it. He saw the beauty of the Liahona as an way to teach the gospel to his son Helaman. (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.
39 And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.
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; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
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.
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.