Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:5:4:Exodus motif: Liahona and the serpent

Exodus motif: The Liahona and the Serpent

Exodus motif: The Liahona and the Serpent

Perhaps the object that more than any other represents the wilderness journey of Lehi and his family in the minds of modern readers is the Liahona. This "round ball of curious workmanship" ({{s|1|Nephi|16:10) showed them which way to go in the wilderness, led Nephi to a source of life-saving food, and gave the group other special instructions when needed. Nephi commented concerning it, "Thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things" (1 Nephi 16:29).

Much later the prophet Alma turned the Liahona over to his son Helaman, along with other sacred relics. While explaining the history of this object, Alma referred to the story of another brass object, the image of a serpent that the Lord commanded Moses to make in order to save the children of Israel from the bites of "fiery serpents":

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 (Alma 37:46).
The Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Numbers 21:8-9).

The similarity in these cases is in the relationship between the people and the objects. To be healed, they had to act on simple faith. Obviously, both the Liahona and the serpent served as symbols of Christ. In Alma 37:38-47, the Liahona is compared to the words of Christ, which can guide us through our own trials. People must seek, pay attention, and obey to get the benefits. Regarding the serpent image, Christ himself referred to it as a symbol of both his being lifted up on the cross and his being slain. Again, the benefit could be had only by a person's acting from faith—by obedient "looking" at the object (see John 3:14-15). With both objects, the way was too easy for some to convince them to act. Referring to the metal serpent, Nephi says, "The labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished" (1 Nephi 17:41).

Alma makes a similar statement regarding the Liahona: "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; 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 37:41-42).[1]


  1. Terrence L. Szink, "Nephi and the Exodus," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 5.