The Lord wanted them to know that it was by him that they were led:
1 Ne 17:13 13 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
The Lord gave them the Liahona as their guide. Jonathan Curci suggests that the etymology of the word "Liahona" contains three Hebrew elements - L = to; iaho = Jehovah; and ona = whither or direction. In the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 16, number 2, 2007, pp. 66-67, Curci concludes:
As Elder David A. Bednar explained, "The primary purposes of the Liahona were to provide both direction and instruction during a long and demanding journey. The director was a physical instrument that served as an outward indicator of their inner spiritual standing before God."16 It worked according to the principles of "faith and diligence" (1 Nephi 16:28). In this way, the Liahona not only indicated the geographical direction whither they should go in the wilderness but also directed the Lehites to the Lord. This meaning would be in harmony with the appellation director inscribed by Alma in 37:38: "our fathers call [it] a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord [Yahweh] prepared it." After having specified that the interpretation was ball or compass, Alma associates the term compass with the fact that the Lord prepared it. Retranslating the verse in Hebrew, we would have the concept of direction ʿona, and the director, or Yahweh the Lord, side-by-side, thus composing the name LiahonaAccording to Alma, there were qualities in the Liahona that point us to the Light of Christ or the words of Christ that are in each of us (D&C 84:44-46). In other words we all have a Liahona (The Light of Christ) to give us direction for our lives so that we end up in a "far better land of promise" (Alma 37:45).
Alma suggests that the Liahona was easy to use. Even though it did require faith, all they had to do was believe that it would point the way and it did. It worked by such "small means" that they all became slouthful and forgot to exercise faith. Here we see that even good people like Lehi and Nephi took the Liahona for granted and ignored it from time to time just as we do the light of Christ (Alma 37:40-41).They spent much more time than needed in their difficult situations and afflictions because of their slothfulness. When they "forgot" to exercise faith they did not travel in a direct course and the many daily miracles ceased in their lives. So it is with us when we ignore the Light of Christ in us (Alma 37:42-43).
Alma draws this conclusion for the reader:
Alma 37:44-46 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.
In a sense the Lord took the Light of Christ and made a model out of it so that we could see how it works. Lehi and his exodus became a model for us and our quest for the Celestial Kingdom and our use of the Light of Christ in our exodus out of the world. Nephi made this clear in 1 Nephi 1:20 when he said, "... I, Nephi will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance."