1:1 - The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,
Jonah is identified as the 'son of Amittai', which cements his identity as one and the same as the 2nd Kings Jonah. If this event happened before the prophecy, it would stand as perhaps a beginning of his prophetic ministry. If after the prophecy, it would be a continuation of an established ministry. Regardless, the original audience would not have been far removed from Jonah's unwritten ministry as a prophet, and may have been contemporaries of Jonah.
Another observation is that God initiates this whole ordeal. If Job was available for the original audience, this beginning might have sparked a remembering of Job 1:8 when God initiates another trying time for one of His own.
1:2 - “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Nineveh was the ancient city of the Assyrians, an old enemy of the northern kingdom of Israel. So, Jonah was basically called to warn his country's worst enemy about God's judgment that was coming if they did not repent of their wickedness.
An interesting concept is presented here: When man's wickedness rises to a certain level, God responds. Sometimes, He responds without a general call to repentance as He did with Noah; nobody but Noah and his family were invited into the ark. Another time, that God judged without extending a general call for repentance was when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; only Lot and his family were warned and spared. In Nineveh's case, God does decide to grant mercy in the opportunity to repent.
This may have been new revelation to the original audience as it displays God's mercy to nations outside of Israel. While Israel would have wholeheartedly agreed that Nineveh deserved divine judgment, they certainly would be resistant to the idea of mercy and grace to their one time oppressors.
1:3 - But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
First we notice (because MS Word pointed it out thinking it was misspelled) that Tarshish was repeated three times. Nineveh and Joppa are mentioned once in this paragraph, and Tarshish is mentioned three times. Repetition really reinforces and emphasizes that Jonah was headed to Tarshish, which is the opposite direction of Nineveh.
Second, the phrase 'from the presence of the LORD' is repeated twice. While the first sentence serves as the main point and the subsequent sentence serves as an expanding and detailing of the first, it should be noted that the emphasis remains on fleeing from the presence of the LORD to Tarshish.
Third, Jonah pays for the privilege of running from the LORD. First he travels to Joppa, which takes time and money, and then he pays the fare to go to Tarshish. Hopefully the original audience would have noticed the irony of paying to run from God.
And fourth, Jonah knows from Psalm 139:7-12 (one of David's psalms) that it is impossible to flee from the presence of the LORD. Nevertheless, Jonah bolts. The ancient readers would recognize their own futile attempts to flee from God's presence.
God initiates the impetus and direction for the entire book. Nineveh's sin has reached the point where God is going to judge them, but He decides to have mercy and send Jonah to warn them of their impending doom in order to allow them opportunity to repent of their wickedness.
Jonah, steeped in the culture and attitude of the northern kingdom, wants nothing to do with allowing Nineveh access to God's mercy and runs. He might have been hoping that in the time it took for God to bring him back on track that God would have destroyed Nineveh. This is the first glimpse into Jonah's heart, which will be further revealed in the first paragraph of chapter 4.
Since Jonah is so like his countrymen, it would not be surprising that most if not all of the original audience would be in the same boat (sorry) philosophically as Jonah. They would have been on Jonah's side at this point, which makes the book even more real to the original audience as God takes them through the same journey that He takes Jonah.
In this one paragraph, God captures the original audiences' attention and causes them to identify themselves with Jonah; this is key to the time-locked message.