Working together, they felt that they could do anything. Human intelligence. Human technology. Human achievements. These things would allow them to prosper and be remembered for ever.
That was man's plan. But it wasn't God's plan. God wanted them to depend on Him, not just lean on one another.
So He made it so that they spoke different languages, which led to them scattering and forming nations according to those languages. The city was called Babel because of the babble of languages that was created there.
For years, I read this story and only saw God's actions as punishment, an almost capricious act of jealousy and anger. Then someone pointed me to a passage in the New Testament, when the apostle Paul was speaking to a group of intellectuals in Athens. Paul told them:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
God did this so that men would seek Him, rather than seeking their own glory. He put men into different nations so they would reach out for Him, rather than merely depending on one another. God acted at Babel so that men would find Him.
An interesting side note is the fact that we don't know the names of any of the builders of Babel. They weren't recorded. But in the very next chapter of Genesis we meet a man who never built a city or a tower, a man whose only construction was the building of altars. God came to him and said, "I will make your name great."
Today, we still have people desperate to be known and to be remembered. We still have people who want to lean on human wisdom and human accomplishments. And we still have a God who wants us to seek Him, reach out for Him and find Him. In Him, we will be known and remembered forever.