The LORD's last line in the Jonah story:
"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor,
nor did you make it grow,
which came into being in a night
and perished in a night.
And should not I pity Nineveh,
that great city,
in which there are more than 120,000 persons
who do not know their right hand from their left,
and also much cattle?"
The LORD's first line in the Jonah story:
"Arise [Jonah], go to Nineveh,
that great city,
and call out against it,
for their evil has come up before me."
It seems that all nations would have some kind of evil come up before the LORD. This is a similar phrase God used with Abraham when he personally came to visit Sodom and Gomorrah, also with the Amorites and other people groups who dwelled in Canaan prior to the Exodus of the Israelites to their Promised Land. With the Sodomites, God sent a delegation to see if there were enough righteous people amongst them - ten would've prevented the disaster. With the Amorites God waited over four-hundred years before he brought judgment upon them for their wickedness. And here with Nineveh, God sends Jonah to proclaim their coming punishment for their evil - unless they repent.
So I wonder, how often did God send Israelite prophets to foreign nations to call out against them for their evil? How many of them repented like Nineveh? Is this Jonah/Nineveh story included because it is the one success story, or is it included as a representation of all the other nations that responded similarly? God's covenant with Abraham included a strong missional component - I will bless you, I will make you a blessing, and through you the whole world will be blessed. This Nineveh story is another example of how God's blessings upon Israel resulted in a blessing upon a foreign nation.
This story is hard to date, for the Assyrians (Nineveh being the capital city of that empire) destroyed the Israelites in 722BC. The Assyrian Empire was crumbling such that the Babylonians came to power, and then enslaved Jerusalem in 586BC. So either the Jonah story happens prior to the 722BC assualt, or sometime well after it, several generations later. Be that as it may, Nineveh was a despised city, a mortal enemy - Moscow in the 1960's, Tehran in the 2000's. It is not surprising that Jonah was reluctant. But what other cities recevied this kind of hope? How far did God send his prophets? There were tribes inhabiting all parts of the globe: North America, South America, all of Asia and Africa had people groups - did they also receive Jonah's?
The story ends with God reminding Jonah that people are more important than plants; babies are more important than blossoms. Nineveh was a great city, with 120,000 infants; there must have been close to a million people in that city. They repented. If Nineveh could repent like that, so could any other city that a prophet was sent to. The key was that their evil had come up before the LORD. Maybe we don't see prophets (coming from Tehran, Cairo, Havana, etc.) coming to cities in America like this because our evil isn't that great? Or maybe the prophets have already come and gone? Or maybe the prophets have gone down to Joppa?