Here come the plagues...blood, frogs, gnats, and flies in these two chapters...
Two things jump out at me. (No, not the frogs...)
The first is the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Often folks ask how an all good God could harden Pharaoh's heart, apparently just so he could make him suffer? Is God robbing Pharaoh of his free will?
Remember that we need to look at the whole of scripture, especially when we try and figure the mind of God. We know that God is all good and does not do evil, and we know that free will is a gift we have. To take one's free will is indeed an evil, so God would not do this. But we do know that God allows evil, since it is a byproduct of our free will, though he often (and some might argue always) uses that evil to bring about a greater good.
It follows, therefore, that God does not take Pharaoh's free will. But if that is the case, how do we make sense of this?
We need to remember that to do the will of God, in our concupiscence, requires God's grace, which he freely gives us. God's grace is a gift...and gifts can be refused.
Have you ever refused a gift? I was in a situation once at work where I was offered a gift of substantial value by a client. Accepting the gift would have been a breech of our code of ethics, so I was forced to graciously decline it. Even after I declined it, though, the would-be giver offered it to me again. I had to decline it again, and ultimately a third time. But after the third time my client relented, and ceased offering me this gift.
God, likewise, in respect of the free will he gave us, will stop offering us His gifts if we refuse him constantly and make it clear that we don't want them. This would seem to be the case with the Pharaoh, who declares at one point "I do not know the Lord..." and in so doing so intimates that he does not wish to know the Lord. So perhaps it is that the hardening of Pharaoh's heart by God is a withdrawal of God's offer of grace. Certainly, Pharaoh acts in a very deceptive way moving forward.
The second item which I find curious is the "secret arts" of the Pharaoh's wise men or magicians. Are their replications of the miracles and plagues mere prestidigitation, or are they more sinister in nature? It is hard to say from the scripture...but I guess in the end it isn't important. We know what is from God and what is not. We also know that after the gnats, the Pharaoh's wise men couldn't keep up with God's works.
This psalm is a plea to God to bring down one's foes. It's a pity party of sorts, but it is punctuated with heartfelt moments of praise between the call to God to smite those who grieve the psalmist.
We ended chapter 19 on a "first will be last, and the last first," and now Jesus goes on to explain himself with (wait for it...) a parable.
So often we are jealous of others for what they receive as a benefit of generosity. We feel vindicated in doing so, because "They didn't earn that" or "They didn't deserve that, but got it anyway." Rather than be happy for those who benefit, we try and tear them down. The laborers hired early in the day here do just this, but the master explains that he is free to do with his money what he will, and if he wishes to pay those who came late the same as he agreed to pay those who came early as a sign of his generosity, he is free to do so. It all comes down to the agreement...if the terms of the agreement are met or exceeded, then what complaint is there to levy?
It seems to tie back to the reading from Exodus. God is free to do with his grace as he wills. He gives us each at least enough to hear him...but he can choose to give abundance or not as he wills and as he sees fit. I, for one, think he's probably got a better idea of where it is needed at any given moment in history than I do.
This time we end with a "last will be first, and the first last."
The world exists for God's glory. That's pretty simple, and yet terribly profound. The work of the Trinity is to create, and yet He doesn't create out of necessity, but out of desire. It is in His nature to create, to be "creative," since he is pure being, his "words" manifest in an existence all their own, yet completely dependent upon Him. Existence of the universe does not increase God's glory, but proclaims it with every covalent bond that forms or electron that flows. From the tiny quark to the vast milky way, the glory of God rings out just as strong, for it was an infinite God that created all of this ex-nihlo.