We read from the third aliyah of Eikev this week. The specific text I read is Deut 9:4-14. So that's the context for this d'var torah.
This portion begins with Moshe telling the people that they aren't getting the land on their own merits. No, he says, they're only getting the land because the current occupants are even worse, and because God made a promise to their ancestors. That sounds harsh.
First off -- to whom is Moshe talking? He goes on to talk about how "you" sinned with the golden calf and in other ways, but this is not the generation that left Egypt. They all died in the desert; these are their descendants. These people didn't do those things. The torah does tell us that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children, and maybe Moshe is thinking of that here, but maybe there's another way to look at his statement.
We've talked before about how the generation of slaves couldn't make the huge leap to worshipping God. There had to be a transition; they weren't ready but their children would be. When we consider the environment those slaves had lived their entire lives in save a couple months, the sin of the golden calf isn't that surprising. Sure, they'd witnessed God's miracles, but they'd then seen their leader ascend the mountain into the clouds, seemingly never to return. Is it that surprising that they reverted to what was familiar to them? I'm not excusing them for this sin, but I'd also point out that this is not the sin that caused them to die in the desert, either.
No, what led to that sentence was a lack of faith in God once they'd received the torah. They were on the border of the land, ready to enter with God in the lead, when the spies returned with a bad report and the people lost faith that God, who had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness, could lead them into their land.
And now Moshe is talking to the next generation. These ones, unlike their parents, didn't know a lifetime of slavery; they have only known God. They are as yet untested. Their entry into the land isn't a reward; neither, however, are they being punished for their parents' sins. They have a chance at a clean start not unlike the chance that Adam and Chava had in the garden -- a truly fresh opportunity. Reward and punishment do not apply in this case, and Moshe's statement points this out.