As a result of the Nation of Israel’s lack of trust, their belief (based upon the report of the spies) that they could not conquer Cana’an and would die trying, G-d said the entire generation of the desert would remain just that: rather than being the generation that entered the Land of Israel, they would remain wandering in the desert until they passed away. Their children would be the ones to enter the land.
The last Torah portion in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers) enumerates the migrations from place to place — from Ramses to Sukkos, from Sukkos to the edge of the desert, etc., until reaching the plains of Mo’av. When you read them, the number of migrations seems overwhelming. There are enough of them that many congregations read that section with a special tune.
In actuality, and as Rashi explains, this image is deceiving. First of all, there are only forty-two steps, barely one per year. Fourteen of them describe the journey to Mt. Sinai and shortly thereafter, all during the first year — and prior to the decree. The final eight steps, all of which transpired after the passing of Aharon, are in the last year in the desert as they prepare to finally enter the land. So during all thirty-eight years when they were decreed to wander without real purpose, there were only twenty such journeys.
So we see that in actuality, the decree was delivered with mercy. The Rambam [Moreh Nevuchim] also says that a person can go through the Sinai desert, and see for him or herself that the Nation of Israel camped in places where other people did not. In fact, anyone would say that those places were “unfit for habitation,” pure desert with little water, much less food.
Even when there is a decree against Israel, there is a bit of light in the darkness. We must never give up hope — that, as the spies demonstrated, only makes matters worse. We must always remain aware that G-d is watching over us!