Let me remind you of the main thesis of Igor Lipovsky’s Early Israelites. His subtitle is “Two Peoples, One History”. He sees the house of Joseph as a different people than the house of Jacob. The first came out of Egypt with he Hyksos in the middle of the 16th century BCE. The second came out of Egypt in the early 12th century. So there were at least two exodus events.
Moses, in the 12th century, knew about the presence of the Israel tribal alliance in the north. His plan was always to link up with them. However, he was also a religious reformer. Both peoples were pagans. They had some historical links to Yahweh worship but both worshipped other gods now. Joshua 24:15 probably reveals the truth:
Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord (NET Bible).
Even in Egypt the people had been pagans.
So the request of Moses for the people to make a pilgrimage to a sacred mountain three days journey from Egypt (Exodus 8:27) was not a request to go to Horeb/Sinai where Midianites worshiped Yahweh. It was a request to go to a traditional Western Semite shrine called the mountain of god or the gods (har elohim). The Amorites in Egypt had made regular pilgrimages to sacrifice there until Ramses II fully drafted them into his labor force.
There were strategic reasons why Moses did not go there from Egypt. Since it was easily accessible to for pilgrimages, it would also be accessible to the Egyptian military.
But there were also religious reasons. The Jacob tribes had come to Egypt from southern Palestine or Jordan. They probably had once known the Yahweh religion of some of the Sutu tribes there. So Moses had reason to explain to the people that their ancestral god was the same as the one worshipped by his Midianite family. He adopts the Kenite or Midianite hypothesis with some modifications. Moses poured new monotheistic content into Yahwism.
Lipovsky thinks Moses was a true monotheist. He acknowledges that during much of the history of Israel this concept was lost. Only during the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah and Josiah and Jeremiah, did Israel begin to recover the original genius of Moses.
He especially traces the Sabbath commandment back to Moses. It was meant as a gracious gift of rest for the oppressed, not a restrictive legal requirement. The concept was not grasped in the rest of the world for another thousand years.
To Lipovsky clearly Moses was a great man and a liberating hero. When reading this I was reminded of Lipovsky’s life and the fact that he probably faced the threat of slave labor in Siberia at one point.
Lipovsky looks at the proposal that Moses was influenced by the cult of Aton promoted at Amarna in the mid 14th century. Lipovsky rightly says that Akhenaten’s religion was not really monotheism. He calls it “an improved form of paganism.” It was not what Moses was into.
The Golden Calf incident contains a memory that there was resistance to Moses’ reforms. Moses’ own tribe of Levi militantly took his side in this conflict. Others, though, opposed Moses and claimed that pagan gods had delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32:8). This was initially a conflict between Moses and Aaron. The conflict somehow was both resolved and continued in a rivalry between Aaronides and Levites. The biblical text has not covered this up very well.
One of the results of this was important additions to the house of Jacob. The Midianites supported and helped Moses. Midianite and Edomite nomadic clans attached themselves to the tribe of Judah at this time. The story about Zimri, prince of the tribe of Simeon, who followed the example of Moses and married the daughter of a Midianite ruler comes down to us through a Aaronide story (Numbers 25:6-15). It condemns intermarriage and tells how a grandson of Aaron impaled Zimri and his bride on a spear.
This probably reflects a historical alliance between the Moses tribes and the Midianites. So there must have been conflict and even inter tribal warfare in the wilderness.