The accounting of what took place at the Tower of Babel is quite perplexing.
However, many hints are strewn about in the preceding verses that can be pieced together to give one a clearer picture of this story that is seemingly shrouded in mystery.
The story starts out by saying that “they” (without telling us who “they” are) migrated from “Kedem” the East and found a plain in the land of Shinar.
The sages say that Nimrod was the leader and mastermind who managed to gain a tremendous following due to his abilities as “a mighty hunter before God”. (Genesis 10:9)
Nimrod had a vast kingdom whose beginning was in Bavel, Erech, Accad, Calneh and Shinar. (Genesis 10:10)
Nimrod was a great hunter before God. He established himself as a mighty powerful individual and he did not want to be subservient to Shem as was foretold by Noah after being disgraced by Cham.
Cursed be Canaan; he shall be a slave among slaves to his brethren.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them.
May God expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them.” (Genesis 9:25-27)
Canaan was the son of Cham and his descendants were cursed to be slaves to both the descendants of Shem and Yafet after all the family tribes were dispersed throughout the land. It makes sense that Nimrod rallied the descendants of Cham to move away, construct a huge tower by saying, “Come let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth”. He was playing on the fate grievances of Cham’s descendants. Nimrod’s claim was that they don’t have to be subject to a future as wandering slaves in the dwellings of Shem, rather they can make a name for themselves (like Shem), have their own city, and he would be their leader (the head at the top of the tower that would be their god so to speak).
Nimrod could achieve this because he had already established the reputation of a great hunter before God. If anyone could contend with God, it was Nimrod. These people desperately wanted the dignity and security that he was promising.
Therefore they traveled away from Kedem, where Shem resided (Genesis 10:30-31) and began building themselves an impenetrable tower with its head in the sky.
Genesis 11:1 describes the people of the earth having of one language and one purpose before it says that they traveled East. This is not something they were trying to sustain rather it was an existence they sought to escape by establishing themselves as separate people with their own identity and their own leader who could provide them with the future that they wanted.
God responded by mixing them up and dispersing them as not only measure for measure punishment, but such was their lot due to Cham’s original sin who was motivated all along by the desire to be the leading world power.
God, ironically, only scattered them due to their very own fear-based action trying to avoid being dispersed.
Exploiting people to become a world power while replacing God with a dynamic figurehead is certainly an understandable cause for God to intervene. Every nation that attempts to do so will eventually fail as only Hashem and His Will are eternal.