3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh.
The Ninevites were Assyrians, much feared as a military force to be reckoned with, from back in King David's time. Nineveh was the oldest and most populous city of the ancient Assyrian Empire, situated on the east bank of the Tigris River opposite modern Mosul, in Iraq. They are the descendents of the rebellious Nimrod.
When God asked Jonah to warn the Ninevites, Jonah was scared as these pagan Assyrians were the traditional enemies of the Israelites. Not only were the rulers of Assyria terribly cruel, they boasted of their cruelty on monuments that exist in museums to this day!
Some of their boasts read: "I cut off their heads and formed them into pillars." "I cut off the limbs of the officers, the royal officers who rebelled."
Jonah decides rather to take a ship in the opposite direction, but the ship was caught in turbulent waves. After being swallowed by a whale specially prepared by God and miraculously saved, Jonah then proceeds to Nineveh and they repent.
It is very interesting to note the events prior to Jonah's preaching to them around 758-757 B.C. - factors which may have prepared the people to receive Jonah's message of destruction unless the inhabitants repent for their sins of idolatry, violence and immorality.
In 765 B.C. Nineveh, the mightiest army in the world became powerless before a plague!
In 763 B.C. on June 15th, there was a solar eclipse. They were afraid of eclipses, thinking they were bad omens!
In 759 B.C. another plague hits Assyria. This was just one to two years prior to Jonah's preaching to them!
It would appear that they were ripe for repentance at that time, but later turned back to their evil ways.
Sister Valerie Mello, 2012.