So, you may wonder why I spent so much time (both at Large Group and in the last entry) looking at and discarding potential motivations for Jonah to not go to Nineveh.
It's a good thing to wonder. Why didn't I just jump right to what I thought the author was trying to tell us?
My reason for meandering: I want you to learn how to evaluate different means of interpreting Scripture. One method is to look at the historical-cultural context as a basis for conclusions. This method draws from archaeology, history, anthropology, literature, and forensic science to piece together a picture of the Bible. It's wonderful, like something on the Discovery Channel or CSI: Ice Cold Case. You want to be able to carry historical-cultural analysis (or criticism as it's also called) in your Bible-study toolbelt. But like all tools, it's good for some purposes and not for others.
In the story of Jonah, historical-cultural criticism can tell us a great deal about Nineveh, Assyria, the political scene of the day, and the scientific probability that a man could be swallowed by a whale and live to tell the tale. But in the story of Jonah, all this data can direct our attention away from the author's main points. If we focus on Jonah's natural fear, then we'll miss out on the lesson that's to be learned from his unnatural lack of compassion.
As students and lovers of Scripture, we need commentaries and historical-cultural criticism to make sense of narratives that were written long before we were born. Our need for contextual assistance, however, shouldn't supplant our careful listening to the texts and prayerful asking of the Holy Spirit for guidance in reading them.