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COMPASS. 1. The navigational device known as the mariner’s compass with its needle pointing to the magnetic N was unknown in Biblical times, with no record of its use in Europe until the 12th cent. a.d. Ancient seafarers were dependent on sighting the sun and stars as directional aids. When a storm arose, the clouds obscured the sky and made navigation extremely hazardous when out of sight of land. See Ships.

2. The compass (מְחוּגָה, H4684) in Isaiah 44:13 refers to the pair of compasses or dividers used by the carpenter or wood carver. The prophet satirizes the skilled craftsman who traces the pattern of an idol on a piece of timber with chalk or pencil and a compass to draw the curved portions of the outline, then carves it out, and finally bows down to worship what he has made.

3. In Exodus 27:5; 38:4 KJV “compass” (כַּרְכֹּב, H4136) refers to a ledge (RSV) that went around the altar of burnt offering just below its top.

4. In 1 Kings 7:35 KJV “compass” (סָבִיב, H6017) is a round band (RSV) on top of each of the ten bronze stands or wheeled pedestals for the auxiliary lavers or washstands in Solomon’s Temple. Such a pedestal has been found in a tomb of the 11th-10th cent. b.c. on Cyprus, the upper part of which is ring-shaped with a spiral design around its rim, evidently intended to hold a laver (Views of the Biblical World, ed. Benjamin Mazar, II, 217).

5. Proverbs 8:27 KJV “set a compass” (חוּג, H2553) simply means that fig. speaking God at creation drew a ring or circle on the surface of the oceans, perhaps with reference to the circle of the horizon all around one when at sea. The same concept is expressed by the verb “compass” in Job 26:10.

6. The verb “compass” tr. several other Heb. and Gr. words meaning “to encompass,” “encircle,” “surround.”

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

"Compasses" is the Revised Version (British and American) for "compass," mechughah, an instrument for describing a circle: "He marketh it out with the compasses" (Isa 44:13) in making an idol.

The verb "to compass" occurs frequently in the senses of "to surround" and "to go round about," e.g. Ge 2:11, "which compasseth the whole land of Havilah," De 2:1, "We compassed (went around) mount Seir many days"; in Jer 31:22 we have "A new thing on the earth: a woman shall compass a man," the Revised Version (British and American) "encompass"; possibly as a suitor; but more probably as a protector. In those happy days, the protection of women (under God, 31:28) will be sufficient, while the men are at their work; "to encompass" ("The cords of death compassed me" Ps 18:4; "the waves of death," 2Sa 22:5). "To gird" (Isa 50:11 the Revised Version (British and American)); "to lie around," "to be laid around" (Heb 5:2, "compassed with infirmity" (clothed with it); Heb 12:1, "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses").

In Apocrypha we have "compassed about with yawning darkness" (The Wisdom of Solomon 19:17); "compassed the circuit of heaven" (Ecclesiasticus 24:5); "compassed with pomegranates of gold" (Ecclesiasticus 45:9); "The rainbow compasseth the heaven" (Ecclesiasticus 43:12); the course of the sun (1 Esdras 4:34).