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Excellent question! Avot D'Rav Natan ch. 9 Mishna 2 explains why. In summary, he states that that B'nai Yisra'el were tested 10 times (The Mishnah lists all 10) but they weren't punished for any of them except for the incident with the spies, because this was Lashon Hara. At the end of the Mishnah, he states, that this is a kal vachomer we should learn, ...


A couple of things come to mind. One is that they denied G-d's ability to conquer the land (see Rashi 13:31), essentially asserting the supremacy of nature over G-d. So measure for measure G-d would abandon them (see 14:9) to nature in the wilderness, ensuring their death by disease. Another is that they didn't believe they would go into the land, so ...

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